Aliens of the Sea (1999)

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Released 1-Feb-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 48:57
RSDL / Flipper Dual Sided Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Michael Wooller
Pawel Achtel
Studio
Distributor

MRA Entertainment
Starring Tim Eliot
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $19.95 Music Gordon Reid


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
English MPEG 2.0 silent (112Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, not really (credits roll on a pane to the right)

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Aliens Of The Sea is a very curious piece of work that demonstrates the fact that the format does not necessarily spell the death of independent film-making. Before I begin analysing this production, I would like to point out that this is independent in every sense of the word. Director/co-producer Pawel Achtel spent two years making this documentary at his own expense. You have to admire that sort of dedication, really. What we are basically dealing with here is an independent version of Whales, a production that has been shown at IMAX Theatres numerous times, which covers the more unreal and astounding species that we could see if we could spend a few days under the surface of the oceans. Having said that much, it is a rather interesting and comprehensive look at what lurks below the surface of the oceans, although the exact locations are not entirely clear.

    Personally, this documentary did not do much for me, but those who enjoy films about nature and our environment may feel somewhat differently. If you regularly contribute to such organizations as Greenpeace in the hope that more familiar sea-creatures do not suffer to serve mankind's progressively worsening purpose, or if you're looking for something to watch whilst under the influence of drugs, then this disc is worthy of your attention.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Before I begin, I will point out that this documentary has been transferred to disc in a highly unusual fashion. Instead of producing a version for each Region as is usually the case with the larger studios, this disc was produced with the PAL-formatted video on one side and the NTSC-formatted video on the other. This is a fairly unique approach to producing a worldwide-compatible disc. Both versions are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and are not 16x9 enhanced. The sharpness of this transfer is somewhat variable at times, but generally, nothing that the director intended you to see is out of focus. Nor is it hidden by the shadow detail, although the production is mainly shot in bright conditions. Some objects are lost in the black smudges of caves and recesses in the corals, but this is a photographic limitation common to most underwater documentaries rather than a fault of the transfer. No low-level noise is apparent during any part of the production.

    MPEG artefacts may have been present on the disc, but it was hard to tell due to the small size of the suspects. The transfer is encoded at the bitrate of around five or six megabits a second for the most part, which is a bit of a surprise considering that we're talking about fifty minutes of footage per side. Given the nature of the documentary, I would have expected to see a bit rate of at least nine megabits a second for the most part, and the transfer does suffer for the bits it gets. In any case, the edges of some fish became blocky or shimmered into the background at times, which may have been the fault of the MPEG compression or the fault of the film-to-video transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were also a bit of a problem in the transfer, although these are probably more reflective of the materials used to shoot the film. Fine lines shimmered terribly during the first five minutes of the film, and some dot crawl was noted at one point, causing me to believe that this DVD may have been processed from composite source material. Film artefacts were not in the transfer at any point.

    There are no subtitles on this disc, which leaves the people in the audience who cannot speak English out of luck. This is not a wise move for a disc that is to be distributed worldwide, but obviously the budget of the production was exhausted upon the source material and the locations rather than on production details.

Audio

    This is an excellent audio transfer that belies the conditions that the rest of the film was produced under. Four audio tracks are present on this disc, although the fourth is only found on one side: an English track in Dolby Digital 5.1, an Isolated Music Score in Dolby Digital 5.1, an English track in Dolby Digital 2.0, and the PAL side of the disc also contains a silent MPEG 2.0 track. I listened to both of the narrated English tracks all the way through, and briefly sampled some of the Isolated Music Score. The voice of Tim Eliott, the narrator, was clear and easy to understand at all times, as if he were seated beside me rather than speaking into a microphone in some faraway studio. Audio sync was never a problem, and it would be hard to really tell if it was anyway, given the nature of this programme.

    The score music is credited to Gordon Reid, and continues the "aliens from under our sea" theme of the documentary in a comprehensive fashion. It is heavily reliant on dramatic and murky-sounding synthesizers common to films about alien environments and their ilk. While this score is not particularly impressive or unique, it does a great service to the film in question.

    The surround channels were used in a somewhat limited but dominant fashion to create an immersive sound field, with the music being spread evenly through the soundfield, and the narrator being supported well by the centre and main speakers. Having said that much, we did have a very frontal mix where the centre and main speakers seemed significantly louder than the rears, although the rears certainly weren't left with nothing to do. The subwoofer had a fun time underscoring the music and the sounds of the ocean, although it did seem to be slightly overused at times, with every sound seeming to have a certain car-crashing-into-your-room sort of feel to it.

Extras

    Given that this is a very independent production, we'll let the lack of extras pass here.

Menu

    The menu is extremely plain, consisting only of text and a singular background. It is presented without 16x9 enhancement or any audio/animation of any kind.

Theatrical Trailer

    A one-minute and fifty-second trailer describing the film as being shot in the natural habitat of the featured creatures, this is also presented in Full Frame, but only with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound that does not seem to be surround-encoded.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is identical the world over.

Summary

    As documentaries go, Aliens Of The Sea is very enjoyable the first time, and reflects the passion of the man who made it well. Fans of nature documentaries will eat it up, but I was not quite so impressed.

    The video quality is good, but should have been a bit better considering how loose the MPEG compression could have been.

    The audio quality is limited in surround mixing, but clear and sharp as listening to the sounds from the camera's point of view.

    The extras are limited, but sufficient considering the nature of the title.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, May 23, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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