Island of Sharks (IMAX) Review

Whilst a big plasma screen might be impressive, it's a whole lot less so than an IMAX screen. There, probably due to the sheer size of the image, an audience marvels at the kind of sights that, though they might be appreciated by a weeknight BBC audience glad to see the corporation keeping to its public service remit, would leave the average cinema audience wondering when the main feature is due to start. David Attenborough is, of course, a national treasure but whilst we do, at least those of us who don't break the law and pay our television licence fee, pay for the various natural history programmes he has made, it's a considerable leap from tuppence or thereabouts to the demand that an evening at an IMAX places on one's wallet.

The traditional IMAX presentation is described perfectly in something like Island Of The Sharks, a beautifully made feature that presents its subjects - fish, eels, crabs and suchlike - in a remarkable manner but which probably isn't a good deal better than the average episode of The Blue Planet. It must, though, simply look astonishing when presented on a screen some eight miles high. But on to the actual feature and Island Of The Sharks takes us to Cocos Island in the Pacific, which rises out of the ocean via a leap of cliffs, rock faces and forests and which, thanks to be left largely alone by humankind, supports a wealth of animal life, not only on the island but in the surrounding ocean. Being called Island Of The Sharks, our first sight of the wildlife on Cocos Island is that of the sea, specifically the white-tipped reef sharks that hunt for small fish in between the rocks and coral on the ocean floor and the hammerhead sharks that pass by the island on their way to their mating ground.

Like most natural history documentaries, it doesn't only show wildlife to impress the viewer but strives to find a personality amongst the animals. This is, as I'm sure the filmmakers would admit, difficult to do so with fish that hunt in packs, such as the sharks, but much easier with those that are on their own for much of their lives. Island Of The Sharks has one great little scene that would qualify as its romantic subplot were it not for the female of the species being eaten after being spurned by the male, who seems to immediately regret his actions but such moments are scattered throughout. Almost as good is the footage of a hermit crab moving from one shell to another, time-lapse footage of starfish and an incredible scene with marlin and sharks herding a school of fish into a swarm, which is not only picked off from below but is feasted upon by seagulls from above.

However, in spite of such moments, Island Of The Sharks doesn't necessarily feel any more important a feature than the kind one might stumble upon whilst flicking through the documentary channels on digital satellite. It is beautifully made and shows the wildlife around the Cocos Island with a good deal of care but it's really no better than any one individual episode from the BBC's The Blue Planet. One can't help but feel that in limiting itself to this one island, Island Of The Sharks feels small, much, much smaller than the grand sweeps of the BBC's Natural History unit. Several times, one wishes for Island Of The Sharks to move beyond the waters of the few hundred meters around Cocos Island to follow, for example, the hammerhead sharks on their travels but that would appear to be another feature. That's unfortunate as Island Of The Sharks only really offers a glimpse of any of the wildlife around Cocos Island. Every few minutes we're offered another creature but without ever offering a good deal of depth on any of them. That might have been the point but after a lifetime listening to the words of the softly-spoken David Attenborough, this seems like so very little.


Being only forty-five minutes long, Island Of The Sharks, even with its bonus features, doesn't push the storage capabilities of DVD even when one includes the making-of included as a bonus feature. As such, and as it was originally made for the large-screen IMAX format, Island Of The Sharks looks terrific, with a glorious amount of detail, a beautiful use of colour and not one fault in the print that's been used to master the DVD. There is a little noise in the print, namely when one looks closely at the school of fish, but this is, in all other respects, an excellent presentation of the feature on DVD.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is good but, contrary to what a British audience will have experienced with the BBC's natural history output, the makers have sought to add some personality to the animals through excessive use of sound effects. Hence, the ocean bubbles throughout, crabs and starfish crackle and tick and fish whoosh through the water. With there being only a little use of music, these effects soon grate and one wishes for the relative peace and quiet of the actual ambient noise.


Making Of... (34m01s): Howard and Michele Hall are the husband-and-wife team behind Island Of The Sharks and they are both here, talking about the difficulty in making the film as well as their favourite moments and those that didn't quite work out. Along the way, they reveal the secrets behind the making of Island Of The Sharks, such as Howard Hall explaining that the leaf being eaten by the turtle was deliberately placed there and how, in order to get the hermit crab moving so easily between shells, they simply kept enticing him into a shell, then out of it, then back into it and so on. Such is the hermit crab's excitement at finding a new shell that it never noticed the shell that it was so excited about was the one that it just left.

About The Filmmakers: The careers of Howard and Michele Hall are described in these few pages of text, which explain their work apart as well as that produced together. This also lists the various awards they have won throughout their careers.

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