During the production of Hurricane on the Bayou, a film meant as wetland conservation, Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana sending producers scrambling to impart experiences of the storm. Thus, this IMAX feature shifted from sailing images of dwindling wetlands to a motivated warning: Without wetlands, Louisiana is a victim.

Some of this is jarring, beginning three months prior to the storm’s landfall. This is identifiably New Orleans as the camera casts its eye on local musicians, one who has made his lifelong home in the heart of the threatened area. Alligator populations stick to second string narrative, while sitting still for dazzling close-ups.

Then, Katrina hits and Hurricane on the Bayou dramatically shifts. Woven into the theme is how wetland devastation caused the storm’s record breaking battering. It is as if a second film was spliced into this IMAX feature, albeit a wholly effective one. Images captured on this large format film stock include ships seated in the center of freeways and aerial views of homes which barely peer above flood waters. These sights are forever captured in scale to stun future generations with nature’s ferocity. Note a few computer generated sequences are inserted for impact and feel wholly unnecessary.

Bayou is told well, with clear explanations as to why wetlands condensed in a matter of decades and fitted with the vibrancy of New Orleans’ unmistakable musical heritage. Meryl Streep lends to her voice to less than a third of the feature, letting locals expunge their stories of survival. This personal touch supersedes celebrity narration, making Streep’s limited line reading out of place.

Unlike the usual MacGillivray/Freeman IMAX output – usually chipper history lessons leaning on their inventive cinematography – Hurricane on the Bayou is a time capsule riding on importance. Katrina’s impact may never be forgotten, but visually, these brief images are amongst the most astounding whether they were unexpectedly inserted or not. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

A flooded city @ 26:53

Image released this disc originally in 2009, and a visible uptick in video quality is noted the later these discs arrived. Out of the pit of crummy HD DVD encodes comes this feature, still hit with the DNR and edge enhancement bugs if to less detriment than seen elsewhere. Images are dynamic in their contrast and flushed with color which avoids bleeding through.

Fidelity is still left wanting as cameras pass over marshes. Trees are sloppily defined and some smearing becomes evident in motion. Grain is suspiciously bloated, buzzing over areas of deep contrast. Edge enhancement will do that to any grain structure, and minimalist halos confirm the cause.

Mixed in is some SD footage, not merely the traditional window boxed IMAX style either, but some images are plucked from local news and displayed full screen. Those appear as expected. Bayou has other concerns to levy worry outside of those brief, low grade shots anyway.

In the end, this feature is pushing some fidelity. Alligators show detail and the shocking clarity of those shots filmed in Katrina’s wake are stunningly brutal. Bayou is a mish-mash of negatives and positives, seating itself in the center of these documentaries in terms of visual force. It’s passable, but deserves better. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]

DTS-HD pounds the soundfield with storm elements, pushing wind and thunder with an undercurrent of heavy rain. Effects are substantial with weight and show no fear of utilizing stereos in conjunction with surrounds. The unique New Orleans musical sound carries the same hefty spread, with a dominating focus on the rears.

Bayou also stitches together nature, from ambient birds to the bellowing mating call of local alligators. It’s outstanding. Live performances carry a surprising clarity and the film features many of them. Mixing work is superb. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

The making of featured is shorter than most (31-minutes) if one of the more interesting considering the storm hijacked the production. The shift in tone and complexities make for fantastic material. Most of the remaining extras are text based, from a trivia quiz, biographies on the musicians, a history of the Audubon Nature Institute, alligator facts, and the oft featured Greg MacGillivray work bio. A promo for MacGillivray/Freeman films and trailers are last up. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Note: This disc is part of the MacGillivary Freeman Limited Edition Gift Set, containing 10 of the IMAX features from their library. The Hurricane on the Bayou disc in the set is identical to the stand-alone retail release.

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