Humpback Whales 3D Blu-ray Review

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Humpback Whales primarily reveals what is unknown about these mammals. After spending a century slaughtering them for oil, recent research peered into their life cycle. And still, the common phrase of Humpback Whales is, “We don’t know.”

Ewan McGreggor narrates, championing the species for their incredible intellect and communication methods. Cameras dive underwater to film the animals, sometimes feeding, sometimes leaping, sometimes playing. Results are stunning whether scientific mystery exists around them or not.

70mm footage overflows with once-in-a-lifetime nature cinematography…

Filmed in three different locations, Humpback Whales finds the young and old migrating thousands of miles through the ocean, in and out of mating seasons. A late narrative follows whale rescue teams, unhooking a male whose fin becomes entangled in nets, a bit of drama in a documentary primarily concerned with observing natural spectacle.

Some gaps fill with CG reenactments, in particular an Alaskan segment on the whale’s remarkably smart eating habits. That’s fine – 70mm footage generally overflows with once-in-a-lifetime nature cinematography, becoming the visual backbone of Humpback Whales.

The leftover mystery leaves a compelling unknown. These whale’s mating patterns remain unseen by human eyes, still hidden under the ocean. Decades of whaling rendered their numbers too small. Their resurgence thanks to hunting bans has lifted some of their mysteries, which Humpback Whales details when it can.

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Video

Underwater footage takes up a bulk of the runtime, captured in stunningly clear waters. Whales parade in front of the camera, giving a sense of their awe-inspiring mass. Up close, the Blu-ray from Shout Factory replicates visible detail while managing a sometimes heavy grain structure.

Highlights from this 70mm production are above water. Shots of the whales leaping from the crest and splashing down – those are gorgeous. Marvelous aerial views of Alaska and Hawaii spread color and sharpness. Much of the feature stays blue for obvious reasons. Those bursts of saturation are a pleasant break.

Shots with scientists and researchers are the lesser, a touch hazy and mundane. IMAX’s film format doesn’t enhance these brief scenes. The use of spherical lenses to create a link between above and below water shots merely lessens the fidelity.

Filmed in 3D, Humpback Whales’ somewhat dull depth doesn’t sell the scale. Cut the stray bubbles and general ocean debris and 3D effects turn unconvincing. Any 3D excitement stays reserved to a few odd shots. Island fly-overs have the needed foreground and where the human-centric scenes fail, 3D props them up.

Of course, whales are the central appeal. Unless they’re moving together, it’s a struggle to lock onto depth effects. Enormous as they are, whale fins don’t poke from the screen and their tails rarely find the necessary position.

Audio

Helped along musically by pop hits, Shout’s splendid Atmos/TrueHD mix comes ready to accentuate weight. Leaping from the ocean and slamming back down onto the surface, the bass afforded to these creatures always sells their size. Whale calls spread across the soundstage and underwater effects take over each channel.

Grand as the action can be, narration is a problem. McGreggor’s voice stretches across the fronts – heavy on the right side – distracting as the voice work fills too many channels. This also reduces the impact of sound effects.

Extras

As per usual, the making of gives necessary insight to appreciate the work of IMAX crews. Further, some technical discussion is welcome over the 17 minutes. Some IMAX-related trailers fill additional space.

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

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process. Patreon supporters were able to access these screens early, view them as .pngs, and gain access to exclusives.