|The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was probably responsible for more people taking up scuba diving than any other single factor. Jaws probably kept more people out of the water than any other single factor. Both were opposites in their appeal, yet were sides of the same coin - underwater movies!|
Now, thanks to new technology, its possible to see movies in your own home as if you were at the cinema. Welcome to the world of DVD and, at last, the underwater world of DVD!
For those who might not be aware - and if youre not, youve been at a serious narcosis depth for the past year or so - DVD is the means of storing high-quality video and audio on a CD-sized disc for playback through a TV or PC.
There has been a lot of hype about this format, and justifiably so. Played back through a good-quality widescreen TV and sound system, you can achieve better quality than your average Odeon. The picture might not be as large, but in a living room the effect can be almost as dramatic, and if youre prepared to go the whole hog and buy a projection TV, you need never go down to the local fleapit again!
With the appalling print quality of many films at the cinema these days, its a joy to watch pristine images of your favourite movies in glorious widescreen, where before they could be seen only in a dreadful 4:3 screen-ratio format on a muffled television set.
You might have heard about problems with DVD, such as regional coding, non-anamorphic discs, and discs with bugs that wont play back on some machines.
All of these exist, but are gradually being sorted out as the medium and technology matures, so dont let that put you off the greatest thing to hit home entertainment since the condom!
Why all this fuss now DVDs have been around for more than two years, and this is, after all, a diving magazine. Well, the roll-out of titles has been fairly slow but, finally, DVDs for divers have arrived, and were in for a treat over the next few months.
Twice the action
One of the first titles to be released was the over-hyped Waterworld, followed quickly by The Deep. The latter is probably the most famous underwater movie of them all, and very much underrated as a film in its own right.
With a film like this, you start to appreciate what makes DVD special - the full 2.35:1 screen ratio. Even on a widescreen TV, you get black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, but with DVD you get to see all of the film. If you have watched The Deep on TV or video over the past few years, you have genuinely missed half the action, so watching it on DVD is like seeing it for the first time again - wonderful!
Another film that has been on the shelves for a while is Sphere, from the book by Michael Crichton. While posing some interesting psychological questions about what would happen if humans encountered beings from another planet at the bottom of the sea, it fails to provide true excitement, and probably has the greatest cop-out ending of all time.
The underwater sequences are well-executed, however, and the logistics have been thought through, although Im not sure Oceanic would confirm that its Data Trans dive computer functions several thousand feet down, as seen in the film!
To its credit, the disc itself has some interesting features and is well worth checking out.
However, with the release of Deep Blue Sea - Jaws 5 in all but name - the DVD format really comes into its own. Renny Harlins action/adventure about genetically enhanced sharks at an offshore research facility might never receive awards for its plot and characters, but it certainly knows how to crank up the action and suspense. The film also includes one of the most dramatic exits of a leading actor in film history!
On the disc, not only do you get the full 2.35:1 screen ratio, but also Dolby Digital 5.1 sound - thats six speakers, for those with the ultimate home cinema set-up! But thats not all.
One of the amazing advantages of DVD over VHS is that it can give you multiple languages, subtitles, and access to commentaries by directors and actors throughout the film.
It can also include a multitude of other special features. Deep Blue Sea is particularly packed with these - you get the theatrical trailer, a commentary by Renny Harlin and Samuel L Jackson, a photo gallery from the making of the film, outtakes from filming, two documentaries: When Sharks Attack and Sharks of the Deep Blue Sea, five deleted scenes from the movie and two TV commercials - not bad for a 5in disc!
As with The Deep and Sphere, Deep Blue Sea is presented in anamorphic widescreen. This means that, when played back on a widescreen TV, the picture is enhanced to fill the screen with a higher-quality image than if it had just been expanded from a normal 4:3 letterboxed widescreen transfer.
If that has whetted your appetite, the really good news is yet to come. In November we can expect the most feature-packed DVD ever: The Abyss - Special Edition.
This is undeniably the most complicated underwater film ever made. James Camerons epic saga of oil workers versus US Navy Seals versus other beings is remarkable in what it achieved both in underwater visuals and technological invention. The making of it is as engrossing as the film itself!
The story becomes a bit wobbly towards the end, but the special edition goes some way to redressing this problem, by explaining what the film is all about.
There is so much extra material here, they couldnt pack it all onto one disc, so you get two. Both versions of the movie are included, the original and the extended Special Edition. This includes text commentary; 10 minute featurette; an hour-long documentary about the making of the film; cast and crew biographies; 28 pages of production notes; three trailers; Camerons shooting script; original story treatment; storyboards for the film; photo gallery; many SFX filming sequences; video storyboards; three DVD-Rom games and more!
Dont miss the alien attack
The Big Blue
Deep Blue Sea
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough
TO BE RELEASED:
The Abyss (11 November)
For Your Eyes Only (26 December)
Licence to Kill (26 February 2001)
The Spy Who Loved Me (29 November)
Thunderball (21 August)
But, and theres often a but when things seem to be going so fabulously, the transfer is not anamorphic, which will leave those with widescreen TVs slightly peeved at the reduced picture quality when shown on their sets.
Its interesting that neither of the two Cameron films on DVD, The Abyss and Titanic, have been anamorphic, yet they are both digitally mastered by THX, which is supposed to stand for high quality.
There is a second issue with The Abyss - Special Edition, and that is regional coding. The double-disc set described is already released, but only in Region 1, the American territories.
The world has been divided into regions to allow phased release of movies and prevent early-release American discs being viewed elsewhere in the world before films have even come out in the cinema.
The UK is in Region 2, and often the versions of the discs we get differ from those in the States, mainly because of censorship problems. Even a simple photo gallery must pass the UK censor, and at a cost to the distributor. There is no reason to think that the Region 2 version of The Abyss will differ from the Region 1 version, but well have to wait until November to find out.
Other films with great underwater sequences which have already been released include Alien Resurrection, the fourth in the series, not as good as the first two but far better than the third. It is included here for an amazing underwater sequence in which the aliens attack the retreating band of heroes - not to be missed.
The Big Blue, Luc Bessons love-it-or-hate-it audio-visual take on Jacques Mayols life as a free-diver, has Jean Reno stealing the show as his arch-rival, Enzo.
This is the version longue, which has a running time of 162 minutes and includes such extra scenes as the two rivals dancing across the seabed at 200m in commercial dive helmets, while on a diving job from an oil rig!
Great white clean-up
Also out is Jaws, arguably Spielbergs best movie. There was talk of the shark being replaced by a computer-generated version, but if so, this will have to wait for a future special edition.
The DVD version is merely a cleaned-up, digitally remastered version of the original, with old rubberlips himself providing the terror! However, there are some tasty extras, including a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; outtakes; a documentary called Shark World - The Truth Behind Jaws; storyboard and production drawings; theatrical trailer; production, cast and crew notes; photo gallery, and trivia game.
That has to be better than VHS!
For those who just have to have the movies when they are released in Region 1, its possible to buy DVD players that play all regions, or even to have UK players chipped to do the same thing. You can then personally import Region 1 movies, and the easiest way to do this is over the Internet.
If you havent already geared up your home entertainment for DVD, there is no better time.
And if youre worried about the cost, look at it this way. When you watch these movies, youll feel youre actually on a dive without even leaving the house - and then you can get rid of all that heavy gear thats cluttering up the garage!
Also coming soon to DVD and containing memorable underwater scenes are the classic Bond films - Thunderball, The Spy who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill. Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough are already released.