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Image Entertainment presents
"Cave diving has been called the most dangerous adventure in the world. Survival takes training, caution, and luck."
DVD ReviewA lone caver dangles from a thin wire resting above an apparently minor gorge in the Grand Canyon. Quickly and without warning, the camera pulls back and reveals the truly unbelievable size of this stunning gap. It utilizes the unique effect of creating the illusion that we are not pulling away from the line; instead, it appears that we remain stationary and the caver is flying away from us. This is a wonderful device, and it is just one of the many stunning moments in Journey Into Amazing Caves—another winning IMAX creation from MacGillivray Freeman Films (Everest, Dolphins).
Nancy Aulenbach and Dr. Hazel Barton are two cavers dedicated to this dangerous, yet thrilling activity. Both are young women filled with energy and fun personalities even within the toughest conditions. However, they also possess a serious respect for the dangers of caving and its possible benefits to the human race. This effective combination exists throughout the production, which provides educational material but keeps things fresh and exciting. While you might expect cavers to be muscular, Aulenbach is actually very petite. She works on a rescue team, and her small size allows her to squeeze through even the tighest spaces. Barton has an outdoor look that does not match with the usual idea of a British microbiologist. However, her intelligence and persistence is easily evident while searching the caverns for rare microorganisms. Both women have magnetic personas that help to create a more enjoyable and intriguing film.
The IMAX movie begins among the high cliffs of the Grand Canyon, where Aulenbach and Barton explore a cave that has possibly never been visited before. Director Stephen Judson (Everest) does not overdo the effect of the unbelievable scenery with too much grandiose shotmaking. The one exception is the overall view of the canyon, but even that device remains understated enough to keep things enjoyable. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, the story moves rapidly from start to finish. After a short stay in Arizona, we move to Greenland and descend into a perilous ice cave. Now joined by renowned French caver Janot Lamberton, the two women brave chilling temperatures to descend nearly 500 feet into the glacial depths. They stay in small tents that appear as only minor dots against the bleak landscape, but spirits remain high. The final stop in the journey are the underwater caves along Mexico's Caribbean coast, which provide for some tense moments. Without any warning, cave divers can become trapped and lose their way within the watery depths. This segment provides even more elegant scenery and difficult physical activity, and the result is a thrilling and insightful time.
The best IMAX films strike an impressive balance between educating the audience and providing wondrous visual moments. MacGillivray Freeman Films stands among the top echelon of this genre and has mastered the format. Within only a brief running time, the stories provide a starting point for further education on a large variety of subjects. Journey Into Amazing Caves connects with us on a human, more visceral plane. The subject matter brings to mind dark, forbidding places of cold stone, but the reality is much different. Instead, we observe several intriguing, unexplored places that could hold to key to some mysteries of the universe.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Compared to the clarity and grandeur of the IMAX screen, this disc is bound to be a disappointment. The scale works much differently on the small screen, and the sense of wonder is lessened. Also, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer contains a decent level of fuzziness, especially in the darker underground scenes. Luckily, this picture does retain some of its visual majesty with bright, colorful landscapes. Especially impressive are the shots of the Grand Canyon, which still convey the vast, endless feeling presented on the large screen. Although it's not a premier transfer, there's still plenty to like within this presentation.
This disc also contains a full-frame option that reduces the overall effectiveness much further than its widescreen companion.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Although it's obviously impossible to recreate the IMAX sound experience in your home, this release does give it a try. The DTS track features a wonderfully complex sound that helps to create an intimate feeling of being with the cavers on their expeditions. The audio blares powerfully from the speakers and conveys the necessary atmosphere for this film to work. The only drawback is the differences between the quieter sequences and the more energetic moments. At a few points, I turned up the volume to hear the dialogue, then quickly had to make it quieter to save irritation from neighbors.
This release also offers a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track that only rests slightly below the DTS version. The sounds aren't entirely as crisp or clean, but the significant power still exists to draw you into the experience.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dolphins, The Magic of Flight, Stormchasers, The Living Sea, The Discoverers
This disc contains both a bio and filmography for Greg MacGillivray, one of the leaders of this highly successful production company. There are also descriptions and photos for several books that are nice companions to the film. Fans looking for more will enjoy trailers for five other films: Dolphins, The Magic of Flight, Stormchasers, The Living Sea, and The Discoverers. All of the previews appear in decent full-frame transfers with a clear stereo sound.
Finally, a trivia quiz is available to test the viewer's knowledge of the movie. Three choices exist for each of the ten questions. If you get one wrong, you can easily go back and try again. Once you've answered all of them, there's a bonus feature at the end: a promotional EPK. This piece runs for about five minutes and provides a quick overview of the elements included in the longer documentary.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsI first viewed Journey Into Amazing Caves on the giant OMNIMAX screen at the St. Louis Science Center. It quickly drew me into the tense, rewarding adventures of the cavers presented. On the small screen, this story may fail slightly due to the lesser scale, but it still offers impressive images and interesting characters. Fans of this type of IMAX feature should definitely check out this release.
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