HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Humpback Whales
4K Video: :4.5stars:
HTS Overall Score:86
The Humpbacked whales are probably one of the most romanticized and culturally relevant semi-endangered species on the planet. They have been immortalized in cinema and written lore with the greats like “Moby Dick”, or even the pulp with “Star Trek IV”, where they have been revered and given respect for their mighty frame, as well as with the sadness knowing that we as humans nearly hunted them to extinction. Their oil was one of the best on the planet and was used for decades to heat and lubricate most of the known western world. As a gun guy I can know to my grandfather using whale oil to lube his guns and the smell of it sitting on his desk (he had gallons of the stuff that he acquired somewhere). Sadly they were so wildly popular that they were on the verge of extinction, and it wasn’t until the cold war era that mankind got their collective rears in line and made a conscious effort to protect the species. Shout Factory’s IMAX documentary on the subject is both illuminating and cheerfully entertaining at the same time, and while it isn’t one of the most in depth documentaries on the subject, the eye/ear candy and the extreme love that is shown for the beautiful creatures in intoxicating, making for one entertaining 40 minute ride.
Does anyone remember the old 1950s album “Song of the Humpbacked Whales”? I remember having an old cassette of that lying around my house as a child, but really the relevancy of the issue is that album brought about a whole new wave of environmentalists trying to save the dying race of whales. That push prompted their study, cataloging and subsequent save from extinction after a hundred plus years of whaling whittling down their numbers to next to nothing. After decades of work, the near extinct species has been repopulated and cultivated to about 40% of what it used to be before the whaling ventures in the 1800s. That may not seem like a whole lot of whales, but that’s a HUGE jump from where they were less than 65 years ago.
Ewan McGregor narrates the 40 minute venture, discussing the history of the whaling world and enlightening those who didn’t know about all the efforts that were put into saving them. I will say that 40 minutes is a bit short to really do a fully in depth effort, but it is well done and solidly entertaining nonetheless. Thankfully due to the popularity of the whales and the knowledge that they are under threat of extinction, all but 3 countries have complete outlawed whaling, with the those three using judicious whaling instead of wholesale whaling like it was a hundred years ago.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=76337[/img]Following the life of McGillivary Freeman, a subject matter expert in the whales lives, we get to see the giant beasts up close and personal, from their mating habits to the their feeding habits, and a lot of information in between. It seems that there is plenty of knowledge that we have on the creatures, but McGregor makes it VERY clear that there is a ton of information that we still don’t know, and that many of the biggest discoveries have been after decades and decades of studies when new technology and newer camera systems allow for a closer look. Something that has only happened in the last few years or so in reality.
For all of the savagery that was done to the species, “Humpback Whales” adds a light hearted and hopeful spin to the documentary, showing us just what good we can do for them after all this time. Instead of just harping on how bad mankind is and how these beautiful animals were almost lost, it very cheerfully congratulates those who have worked so hard to bring their population back from the brink and the progress that has been made.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=76345[/img]“Humpback Whales” is another simply fantastic looking 4K UltraHD and 3D Blu-ray encode in their ever growing list. These short little documentaries may not be a full feature length film, but they are absolutely mesmerizing to watch and thankfully their 4K versions come jam packed with options (including the ability to switch between HDR and SDR). The Blu-ray in the pack comes with not only the 2D version (like the standalone Blu-ray) but also a nice looking 3D option as well. Sufficed to say the 2D Blu-ray presentation looks absolutely magnificent here, with amazing clarity from the IMAX cameras and virtually no artifacting whatsoever (to my eyes that is). Colors are bright and vibrant, with lusciously saturated blues and greens of the oceans and black levels that look flawless almost. There IS a split second of banding in a couple of underwater scenes, but nothing too egregious.
The 4K disc sports a nice uptick in quality form the Blu-ray and is just that much better. Colors are deeper, richer and more vibrant with all sorts of finer details showing up under closer inspection. Watch the ribbing on their mouths, and the little crustacean attachments to their leathery bodies and you’ll see what I mean. Black levels look magnificent and the short banding instances I noticed in the 2D release aren’t there except for one single instance as the camera opens up in the first few moments of the film. Thankfully this presentation seems to have the least amounts of HDMI handshake issues than I have experienced with other releases (in fact for some weird reason ALL of the Shout Factory 4K releases have been fairly problem free in that regards), which is a nice thing to experience for the sometimes frustrating fledgling technology.
The 3D for “Humpback Whales” was just a tad disappointing and fairly mediocre for a 3D release. It looks like it was a conversion process (actually most 3D releases these days aren’t shot in native 3D, but actually converted), and the 3D “pop” for the film seems mostly relegated to some of the CGI instances or the picture in picture moments similar to the Space doc that Shout released a few months back. Still, in those instances the layering is fairly noticeable and field of depth works well for it.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=76353[/img]I have been REALLY impressed with the inclusion of Atmos audio for each and every one of these IMAX documentaries that Shout has been pumping out, and this one is no slouch either. From the moment the short film starts we’re privy to a host of audio delicacies that range from the humming of the whales in the background to the rushing of the water as it flows around the observation boats, along with the pulsing and energetic musical number of “Best Day of My Life” by the American Authors (which actually gets made and remade throughout the film as it becomes the sort of “theme song” of the movie). For a doc the track is surprisingly aggressive and is infused with a lot of deep LFE that comes from the giant beasts crashing through the waves as well as accenting the music. The heights and surrounds get plenty of workout as the cornucopia of ocean noises switch directions and completely envelope the listener in the beauty of the whale’s ocean playground.
• Making Of
“Humpback Whales” is a delightfully upbeat bit of eye and ear candy for those of you with the proper equipment for either Blu-ray or 4K, and is awash with plenty of little tidbits regarding these magnificent creatures. It’s not AS long as informative as some of the others, but the nice feel good nature of the documentary as well as the obvious pride in humanities ability to save these creatures from near extinction is infectious throughout the movie and makes for one of the better IMAX documentaries I have seen from Shout Factory. The audio and video make this a no brainer for those of you who love eye and ear candy, but the 4K edition is really where I’d spend my money on, as it not only includes everything in the 2K standalone release but also an exclusive 3D version as well as the 4K UltraHD as well, making it the definitive package. Definitely recommended.
Starring: Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Greg MacGillivray
Written by: Stephen Judson
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1 Core), French, Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish, English DD 5.1
Studio: Shout Factory
Runtime: 40 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
Buy Humpback Whales 4K UltraHD Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Humpback Whales Blu-ray on Amazon
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