After Nikita finally earned Luc Besson the attention of mainstream audiences in America, few would have guessed that he would return to the ocean to deliver another action-free, aquatic themed piece. Even less would have guessed that this time round he would take a crack at a documentary that would simply present raw footage of marine wildlife in their natural habitat, set to music composed by Eric Serra. There is almost no voiceover narration in Atlantis, and Besson has no story to tell so you feel like you’re on a trip to a massive aquarium with fancy music to set the scene. This means Atlantis relies solely on how much the viewer finds marine animals interesting and it also relies on how much patience they have, given the mood of the piece is extremely chilled out and the runtime is just under eighty minutes. If that’s a yes to both then Atlantis will easily impress, you’ll be treated to footage of a wide variety of creatures taken from seas and oceans all over the world, and the visuals are really fantastic; it’s certainly something to get to watch these animals up close in 2.35:1 recorded on 35mm, offering a level of detail and colour clarity you won’t get from your standard Discovery channel show. Besson’s editing is also impressively seamless, giving the impression that you’re watching one organic movement.
Backing up the obvious visual appeal of the piece is a diverse and evocative score from Eric Serra, which plays for the entire runtime of the film and so naturally sees the Besson regular branch out from his previous work for the director and work with symphonies to deliver a soundtrack that flits between a wide range of music genres. From Middle Eastern riffs, to opera, to funk infused rock, to pop music, to ethereal choir singing, Serra consistently finds the right sound to match each image and proves a vital component to Atlantis’ soothing appeal.
The Disc: Now, I do say that Atlantis offers a level of detail and colour clarity that you wouldn’t find in your average sea life TV show, but compared to any ordinary earth bound 35mm film Atlantis certainly looks noticeably soft, and colours naturally foggy. Obviously the underwater cinematography limits just how “hi-def” this image is going to look, certainly it’s the softest of all the films in the Luc Besson Collection, and contrast and brightness levels are easily the lowest of the collection as well. It’s hard to say if any clipping is in action here, the sequences that look up towards the surface of the sea/ocean definitely bloom where the sun hits the water, but that seems pretty natural. There’s a whole chapter of the film set in the sea at night, but obviously because of the lamps used to light the sea life, blacks are never completely black - nor do shadows look that deep in the deep water shots of octopodes that precedes the night section. I can’t say the black levels look that unnaturally low though. Colours likewise are obviously affected by the underwater cinematography, the film is all blue and green tones and most of the sequences have a diffuse, foggy light to them which gives the blues a slightly greyish quality, whereas other scenes exhibit a sharper, more lavish display of colour. This isn’t a vibrantly coloured film and the BD transfer reflects that reasonably well.
So far, every individual transfer in the Luc Besson Collection has received a rather low bitrate AVC encode so that each version of the films in question fit on a BD-25 layer. Atlantis is a short film at just under 80-minutes, but for the life of me I cannot see the logic in using a bitrate with an average as low as 20.13Mbps on such a short, murky film. They could have nearly doubled that and still fit the feature on a BD-25. As a result there is noise, most noticeably as banding present throughout. It’s nothing worse than any other title in the collection, but still somewhat excessive for this film. Also with the low bitrate this transfer exhibits poorly defined, fuzzy grain which ranges from light to moderate in the darker sequences. At least the image feels relatively untampered, hard to say whether noise reduction is being used, but edge enhancements are rarely used and on the one or two occasions they are, they’re so slight you shouldn’t really notice them too much in regular playback.
Shown theatrically in Dolby Stereo SR, the French LPCM 2.0 audio track seems to be a pretty decent reproduction. It’s the best of all the LPCM 2.0 tracks in the Luc Besson Collection and offers a smooth presentation with bass that is fairly deep without sounding too hollow, and very solid treble response. What’s more the soundstage is reasonably expressive and enveloping, incorporating some solid use of the surrounds through the score. Audio dynamics are good, so each element of Serra’s score is nicely defined, and aside from a little tearing in the higher notes, the audio is pretty clean. The sole extra feature on this disc is a French Theatrical Trailer which is actually a pretty cool behind-the-scenes snippet that shows Besson descending into the water from a helicopter, complete with his diving equipment and bulky underwater camera; it is shown in standard definition.
Please Note: As with The Big Blue, the review disc of Atlantis that was sent to us had the data directory on it mislabelled as Angel-A.