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To the Arctic: Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD + UltraViolet Review

To the Arctic 3D (2012) movie poster To the Arctic

Theatrical Release: April 20, 2012 / Running Time: 40 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Greg MacGillivray / Writer: Stephen Judson / Producer: Shaun MacGillivray / Narrator: Meryl Streep

Tagline: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the Harshest Place on Earth

IMAX: To the Arctic available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 3/26.

Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD + UltraViolet DVD + UltraViolet

The notion of IMAX has evolved dramatically in recent years. A decade ago, IMAX was something special, a larger-than-life viewing experience well-suited for museums, zoos, and class field trips. IMAX movies were predominantly documentaries that ran about 40 minutes. Now, IMAX is, like 3D (a format with which it is often teamed), another premium option for many tentpole films.
Most of these genuine and aspiring blockbusters do not use the cumbersome cameras and expensive film stock that IMAX demands for more than a few action sequences. But they look good blown up to the dimensions of an IMAX screen, which are getting smaller all the time with retrofitted theaters offering presentations that have been dubbed "LieMAX."

Though they increasingly have to share their screens with the likes of Jack the Giant Slayer and Oz the Great and Powerful, traditional IMAX documentaries are still out there. Of the major movie studios, Warner Bros. is the only one to distribute such films with any regularity. The studio, which is a distant first in feature film output, has released a 3D IMAX documentary between the months of February and April for the past four years. That streak appears to be coming to an end in 2013. Last year's release, To the Arctic, makes its characteristically slow home video debut on Tuesday unable to promote a kindred theatrical opening timed to Earth Day.

A mother polar bear and her cubs win us over in "To the Arctic."

To the Arctic upholds the formula that seems to work in long, limited release. It provides forty minutes of stunning photography and thoughtful narration by a proven movie star, in this case, decorated legend Meryl Streep.

The focus here is on polar bears and how rapid climate change is altering and threatening their existence some 150,000 years after they evolved from brown bears and adapted to the below-zero temperatures of the Earth's northernmost regions. We're told that ice is melting rapidly and at the current rate the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free by 2050 (a sobering thought). Though the rising temperatures produce some dazzling waterfalls, they also mean longer summers, warmer waters, and more swimming for polar bears, who have long relied on ice plates for hunting and protection. One polar bear is documented to swim for nine straight days using the species' front paws-only method, a journey which her cub is unable to endure. The film mentions greenhouse gases, but gladly resists becoming a venue to simply preach about global warming.

Though easily the most photogenic species on display, polar bears are not the film's only subject. A sequence reminds us that walruses are frightening to both the eye and ear (and that "walrus" is an acceptable plural form). We also pay notice to Inuits and the documentarians themselves. A newlywed filmmaker-biologist couple tracks a caribou migration for five months as their "honeymoon." There's also mention of a Norwegian research vessel. Experts provide some segment-specific narration to complement Streep's big picture view.

Arctic walruses get passing mention. Caribou migration is the stuff honeymoons are made of.

To the Arctic remains very kid-friendly. Peppy songs by Paul McCartney, some of them sung by a children's choir, keep the mood light. As does a fascinating interlude showing us the polar bears' interest
in the camouflaged robotic roving cameras used to document them. A tad of gravity is supplied regarding polar bears' environmental dangers both within the species and from others; we get two distant views of bloody feasts (seals), while a climactic hunt pits a male bear against a mother and her cubs, with the happy ending you want.

Warner treats the film to its typical options of single-disc DVD and more substantial combo pack. Distinguishing the latter is the fact that its Blu-ray includes both 3D and 2D presentations of the film, which explains the SRP that's $9 above Warner's standard pricing in spite of a standard two-disc count. The film does sprinkle in a few deliberate 3D effects, most noticeably in the ice-shattering opening credits graphics, a map that morphs into a CG globe, and an up-close polar bear exhale. But I can see the steep price tag discouraging some who would ordinarily be drawn to a standard Blu-ray edition.

To the Arctic: Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D/2D & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $44.95
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (BD-25 & DVD-5)
Blue Keepcase in Holographic Slipcover
Also available in standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The feature presentation is one area where no one should fault this release. While the power of IMAX cannot be replicated in your home, the Blu-ray does a phenomenal job of approximating it. The breathtaking 1.78:1 widescreen picture and exhilarating 5.1 DTS-HD master audio instantly establish themselves as demo quality. Both of those senses are delighted non-stop through the arrival of the end credits just before the 40-minute mark.

Narrator Meryl Streep discusses the film on camera in a short bonus feature. A cameraman sets up a camera in "Welcome to the Arctic."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On Blu-ray, the film is joined by a sextet of short promotional featurettes,
all of which are presented in HD.

"Pristine" (2:00), "Life Under Water" (3:24), and "The Challenges of Filming in the Arctic" (3:15) consider the filming conditions with some behind-the-scenes footage and reflections from director Greg MacGillivray, producer Shaun MacGillivray, and their cameramen.

"To the Arctic with Meryl Streep" (2:22) gets the three-time Oscar-winning actress on camera to give her narrative duties context and gather some thoughts on the subject matter and IMAX format.

"A Polar Bear Family" (3:10) comments upon the movie's primary subject, again primarily from the perspective of those who filmed them. "Welcome to the Arctic" (3:06) shows crew members setting up their remote-operated cameras and reviewing their footage, which included the cover shot of this official companion book.

The Blu-ray extras conclude with To the Arctic's original theatrical trailer (2:00), a rare inclusion for a Warner film.

The same DVD sold on its own for quite a bit less, the secondary disc here includes "Pristine", "A Polar Bear Family", and "Welcome to the Arctic" and drops the other Blu-ray bonus features, while coming well under even single-layered capacity with just 2.59 GB of data used.

The Blu-ray opens with a Blu-ray 3D promo. The DVD doesn't have that, instead opening with ads for UltraViolet, assorted modern Scooby-Doo titles, Tom and Jerry DVDs, the video game Looney Tunes/Scooby-Doo! Cartoon Universe, and the photo-sharing Out My Window app.

Each disc's menu takes Warner's usual approach of placing a looped bit of score over poster art barely reformatted to fill 16:9 screens. Though the Blu-ray does not support bookmarks, that feature is hardly missed, since Warner has authored the disc to resume playback.

The two discs share a standard Blu-ray case (emblazoned with the Blu-ray 3D logo) which holds an insert with directions and your unique code for accessing the complimentary UltraViolet stream (which, though not explicitly mentioned in online listings or on the packaging, seems to also be included with the solo DVD edition). The case is topped by a slipcover that is holographic on all four sides.

Fun fact: Polar bears swim using only their front paws.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As a nature documentary should be, To the Arctic is both entertaining and enlightening. It's also the visual and aural feast that you expect of the genre nowadays. While home video is no substitute for an IMAX viewing, the film manages to stay spectacular enough to make for a satisfying experience on your home theater.

With no 3D-less Blu-ray release, this combo pack is quite pricey -- it's currently selling for nearly twice as much as the DVD -- but for a film that gets so much of its power from picture and sound, it doesn't make sense to stingily settle for the DVD if you have an HDTV and Blu-ray set-up. It may very well be just a one-time view for you, but it deserves at least that, especially for families fond of animals.

Buy To the Arctic from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD + UltraViolet / DVD + UltraViolet

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Related Reviews:
New: Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Rise of the Guardians Nanook of the North
Polar Bears: Earth White Wilderness Deep Blue Schoolhouse Rock! Earth
Nature Documentaries: Born to Be Wild Chimpanzee Oceans The Crimson Wing African Cats
IMAX: Sacred Planet Van Gogh: Brush with Genius A Christmas Carol (2009) Avatar The Lorax Titanic
Arctic Fun: Eight Below Mr. Popper's Penguins Never Cry Wolf White Fang Elf The Island at the Top of the World
Meryl Streep: Marvin's Room Fantastic Mr. Fox Doubt Julie & Julia The Iron Lady

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Reviewed March 22, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Warner Bros. Pictures, IMAX Corporation, MacGillivray Freeman Films, and 2013 Warner Home Video.
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