Of all the Ultra HD discs in their current IMAX line-up that Shout Factory has sent our way to review, 'The Last Reef' was probably the one I was least looking forward to watching. I've never been particularly interested in life under the sea (unless it's a Disney Mermaid or a Amity Island shark), so I figured this would be one of those titles I'd begrudgingly review in service of our readers.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Not only is 'The Last Reef' visually stunning (read all about it in our 'Sizing Up the Picture' section below), but it's very interesting and entertaining. I left the movie feeling I knew a lot more about a topic I didn't have much interest in when I started playing the disc – proof of what a great job the directors of this movie (Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas) have done with this subject matter.
The movie opens with a bang – quite literally – as we learn of the atomic testing that took place off the coast of Bikini Island in the 1940s and the damage it did to the coral reefs there (all but destroying them). But as Dr. Ian Malcolm once told us, "life finds a way," and the coral reefs – which, unlike rocks, are actually living things, have miraculously recovered in the area over the years and returned the ocean floor there to a vibrant ecosystem.
'The Last Reef' shows us the symbiotic relationship between the reefs and the other sea life around it by using the example of a city (in this case, New York City) and how the metropolis interacts and provides for the citizens around it. This also allows the film to jump back and forth between some wonderful shots of life under the ocean juxtaposed with some equally impressive shots of life in New York. And throughout all this visual fun, we realize that the film is providing us with a way of understanding the coral reefs' function by comparing it with something many of us can relate to: life in the big city.
Of course, the film doesn't come without a strong environmental message as well – basically that much of the waste that humans are dumping into the oceans are the leading cause of reefs dying across the world, and warning that reefs currently face a mass extinction. Then they remind us about how resilient reefs are and how they often grow back, so we feel better about polluting the planet. (Okay, the movie doesn't go quite that far).
'The Last Reef' runs a short 40 minutes in length, so there's not a lot of time here for a deep examination of any of the above topics. However, it is a good introduction – for adults and kids alike – to the world under the sea, and I'm giving this one a solid recommendation.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Last Reef' dives onto Ultra HD in this 4K/Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack. The 4K and 50GB Blu-ray (which contains both the 3D and 2D versions) are housed inside a black Elite keepcase, along with an insert containing a code for a digital (download only) copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, whose main menu is a montage of footage from the film, with menu selections running horizontally across the top of the screen.
Despite being marked for Region A on both the box cover and disc itself, the Blu-ray in this release is actually region-free. The Ultra HD disc, of course, has no region coding.
'The Last Reef' was shot for IMAX presentation and just looks stunning in 4K. It is presented here in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is the title you want to get if you want a great example of how much better 4K can look than Blu-ray, particularly when it comes to HDR. In fact, this disc provided the biggest leap in terms of contrast and color I have seen between a 4K standard dynamic range image and a 4K high dynamic range one. Not only in the depth of the colors, but in the sheer variety of them. The movie is primarily shot underwater, and yes, there are a few shots that come off as slightly murky, but wow – some of the imagery of the reefs is nothing short of cinematic art. There are shots above ground as well, including some visuals in and around New York City, and those look great too. This is, in short, the best-looking 4K Ultra HD disc I currently own.
For those wondering, the 3D version appears on the Blu-ray disc, along with the 2D version of the movie. The 3D image is a lot of fun to watch, of course, and is worth a look after you view the 4K HDR version. There's a couple entertaining shots of sea life here that pop out of the screen that will add a level of enjoyment to the film. But make no mistake, the real reason to get this disc is for the 4K image. It's impressive.
The featured track here is an English Atmos one, which downgrades to a Dolby 7.1 TrueHD track for those without an Atmos set-up. The audio here is strong and free of any noticeable glitches or problems, but since the vast majority of this film takes place underwater, this isn't exactly the kind of track that feels immersive (or 'submersive' in the case of this movie). The audio is primarily showcased through the musical score to the movie, with very little going on otherwise, although we do get some pleasant ambient noises when the movie takes its cameras above ground. One can also occasionally hear the bubbling or flowing sound of water deep beneath the surface, although I suspect those noises were created in the studio and added in post-production.
The narration (by Jamie Lee) is clear and distinct, as well as properly mixed with the rest of the soundtrack. The biggest disappointment may be the lack of LFE use throughout...although the soundtrack music does provide a few instances of deep bass. Otherwise, the audio here is pretty solid, if not quite spectacular.
In addition to the Atmos English track, the Blu-ray also includes 5.1 DTS-HD tracks in Spanish and French. Subtitles are available in English.
One of the best-looking of Shout Factory's IMAX 4K Ultra HD releases, 'The Last Reef' provides some wonderful (and colorful, especially in HDR) imagery that is sure to impress viewers and proves to be a great demo disc to show off one's 4K set-up to family and friends. Recommended.