Jaws taught us a lot, like pouring chum into the water is likely to draw a shark. Mind you, not a 25-footer, but a shark nonetheless. That makes the title here, Search for the Great Sharks, somewhat misleading. If Roy Scheider didn’t have any trouble attracting a fish with meat, these people certainly won’t either.
Two shark researchers, Rodney Fox and Eugenie Clark, are followed in this IMAX documentary as they attempt to prove sharks don’t actually attack people on purpose. Admirable sure, although Rodney did have a close encounter in the ’60s that took a chunk of his ribs and back. However, he believes it was a coincidence, and off we go into a land of limited shark footage and other stuff that’s barely shark related.
There is some great footage here, scenes of whale sharks and great whites swarming the crew fairly effective. Unfortunately, there’s not much of it, and at a mere 37-minutes, it drags. That’s not saying much for this fairly dated piece of IMAX film making. It never feels focused, detailing an attempt to create a shark repellent that goes nowhere, following a National Geographic crew as they take underwater photos, and then lowering in a plastic cage right where great whites are converging.
Search for the Great Sharks never has a point, that more of an issue than anything else. Nothing is solved, the research inconclusive, and if the purpose was to make sharks seem less aggressive, they failed. It guns for the thrills, the crew watching on as the great whites munch on fish and slam into the protective barriers. Sure, it’s probably great to see a shark leaping forward in proper IMAX format, but in terms of a documentary arc, you couldn’t miss your goals any more if you tried.
While given a more than adequate high bitrate, this AVC encode from Inception Media never pulls it together. Underwater footage, while not overly murky, tends to be plagued with banding. Light sources always betray the high-resolution film material, producing consistent digital grading. The entire piece feels overly compressed, light artifacts swarming the image as opposed to a mild layer of natural IMAX film grain (which should barely be seen). The father back the camera, the more apparent the effect.
People appear consistently digital, devoid of fine detail. While the image keeps a fairly drastic layer of softness, no matter how close the lens is to the researchers, hardly anything escapes. Black levels severely crush as well, an early scene inside an aquarium utterly destroyed by the darkness. Contrast remains firm even underwater to give the image a bit of life.
Colors appear overly saturated in attempt to beef this one up, the effect not all that pleasing to the eye. While the blues of the water are natural enough, the boats and diving outfits seems especially overcooked. Clean up didn’t seem like much of a priority either, mild specks and scratches scattered about the print. The whole thing looks like an older DVD master with marginally better compression.
This DTS-HD mix seems to come from the same era as the video, where hot, overdone surrounds were considered acceptable to some. Water freely splashes as the sharks become more aggressive but with no directionality to take note of. It merely fills the entire soundfield in an attempt to create an effect. The score is too forced as well, hitting the rears and practically forgetting the stereo channels exist.
That’s not to say there are no moments of pleasing positional usage, a small plane passing over head and a boat’s engines droning past the fronts. Motion is actually detected here, even if the split is marginal.
Dialogue flounders too, even excusing the unfortunate need to dub over everything. The first lines create an effect of being inside the aquatic environment with a stern, forceful echo, one with no subtlety afforded to it. The rest suffers from an over balancing to ensure the lines are heard over the score and action.
Usually, IMAX features are given well produced making-ofs to offset the meager length of the main documentary. That’s not the case here, a flurry of 13 trailers standing in as a bonus.
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