Tuesday, March 31, 2015

IMAX: Island of Lemurs - Madagascar 2D / 3D Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Captured with IMAX 3D cameras, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar takes audiences on a spectacular journey to the remote and wondrous world of Madagascar, where lemurs arrived millions of years ago as castaways. They’ve since evolved into hundreds of diverse species, but are now highly endangered. Island of Lemurs: Madagascar highlights the tireless efforts of trailblazing scientist Dr. Patricia C. Wright and her lifelong mission to help these strange and adorable creatures survive in the modern world. Joining David Douglas once again behind the scenes are editor Beth Spiegel, co-producer Diane Roberts, and composer Mark Mothersbaugh. Songs are by Hanitrarivo Rasoanaivo & Tarika.
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The first time I heard about this documentary was when my son went with his class to the local IMAX theater to see it and he raved about it afterwards. So when I was offered this movie to review, I accepted it right away because I was to support my son's interest in animals and learning in general. I've always been a big fan of IMAX presentations and it's cool that my son now shares that love with me. If you've seen one of these documentaries, then you know that they all follow the same template - an introduction to the subject, a look at them interacting with their environment, and then what their plight is and what some people are doing to help. All of this plus some incredible footage captured with the IMAX cameras of course, which is the real selling point in the first place. 

This time, we learn about the lemurs of Madagascar, an animal my son was already familiar with thank to the lemurs in the Madagascar films. But thanks to this film, he learned how the real animals eat, play, interact with each other, and more. In some ways, we find out that the lemurs have been blessed to live on Madagascar as it's a paradise for them since they have no natural predator hunting them like other animals have to deal with. Instead, it's mankind (as usual) who poses the greatest threat to them because of deforestation. And since Madagascar is an island, that doesn't leave the lemurs a whole lot of room to move around.

Of course, there are some people who are trying to reverse that course while studying the lemurs, and one of them, Patricia Wright is our host for this film. She quit her day job awhile ago to become a scientist and she obviously loves the lemurs and now works out of a facility near them while teaching the next generation of scientists to take her place. We see how the scientists regularly tranquilize the animals to study them and to help track them before returning them to the wild. The group is also proactively trying to save as many of the animals from the burning forests as they can. Wright is also trying to prevent any further extinctions, even going so far as to rescue some rare lemurs so that they can mate with the few remaining ones left in a nature preserve. 

The documentary is a fun but quick overview of the lemurs and their world and issues. Fans of lemurs should be happy as a wide variety of lemurs are included, as there's ring tailed lemurs, mouse lemurs, sifaka lemurs, greater bamboo lemurs, and more. I think my son's favorite lemurs are the sifaka lemurs because he thought their dancing/hopping around was really funny. This film is also immeasurably helped by Morgan Freeman's stellar narration which adds a lot of humor and gravitas when needed. Combined with the lush visuals, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar is a fun and informative way to learn about these animals and their plight. I'm sure that it will inspire others to try to learn more and find ways to help them, which is really the point of these films.
2D Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)     3D Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
While these 1080p transfers look pretty good, they aren't quite up to the usual IMAX standard. Detail isn't as razor sharp as it should be and the contrast levels are much hotter than they should be. Colors are generally good, especially the greens of the forest, but the black levels aren't as solid and inky as they should be. The 3D version also could have been better as the extra dimensionality isn't as as deep as you'd expect, but at least there really isn't a ghosting issue. These are decent transfers, but I expected a lot more from IMAX.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Island of Lemur's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix fares better than the video quality, but again, I expected more from IMAX. Maybe I expect too much from them, but since they constantly brag about their picture and sound quality before the movies, I hold them to their word. Not that there's anything really wrong with this mix as it does the job well, but it just didn't wow me. Morgan Freeman's narration is perfectly presented and all of the dialogue in the film is intelligible. The cries and yelps of the lemurs is also captured well, and the rear channels do offer some decent surround activity. Mark Mothersbaugh's score is also balanced well with the rest of the mix.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)
While I'm glad that some extras were included, I wish that there had been more special features or at least more extensive ones added. Most of these run a few minutes but they are all in high definition.
  • Making of The Island of Lemurs - This is a five minute look at the making of the film and the challenges that the filmmakers faced in making it. The coolest part in this is seeing how they used a hot air balloon for the first time to get some of the fantastic aerial shots. 
  • Behind the Scenes - An even shorted behind the scenes look that runs about two minutes, this should have just been combined with the first one. 
  • The Story of Lemurs - At six minutes long, this is the longest extra included on the set. We hear from Patricia Wright, director/cinematographer David Douglas, and writer/producer David Fellman who talk about how they believe that lemurs found their way to Madagascar and how lucky they were to find this place. They also talk about the various lemurs and how they are different from one another. 
  • Meet Patricia Wright - This is a short intro to Wright and her mission with lemurs and how her experiences impact her as a scientist, conservationist, as a primatologist.
  • A Baby Indri - Thanks to the combined efforts of one of Wright's students and the IMAX crew, the first footage of a baby Indri lemur was captured which thrilled Wright. 
  • The Cutest Lemur - We hear some opinions on which lemur is the cutest one. 
  • Go-Kart Racers - We see some behind the scenes filming of the go kart sequence in the film which looked like a lot of fun. 
  • Five Things About Indri - A fun facts countdown for kids.
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
Island of Lemurs is a fun and informative documentary that kids will enjoy and learn from. It also helps that the film is narrated by the great Morgan Freeman. The Blu-ray offers pretty good video and audio quality, but the extras could have been better. If you'd like to learn more about lemurs, then this film is a great entry point for you to start at.
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