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Blu-ray Review: Humpback Whales (2D Version)


“Humpback whales eat one ton of food a day.
That’s like 8,000 hamburgers!”

Narrated by two-time Golden Globe nominee Ewan McGregor, Humpback Whales is an extraordinary journey into the mysterious world of one of nature’s most awe-inspiring marine mammals. Set in the spectacular waters of Alaska, Hawaii and the remote islands of Tonga, this ocean adventure offers audiences an up-close look at how these whales communicate, sing, feed, play and take care of their young. Captured for the first time with IMAX 3D cameras, and found on every ocean on Earth, humpbacks were nearly driven to extinction 50 years ago, but today are making a slow but remarkable recovery. Join a team of researchers as they unlock the secrets of the humpback and find out why humpbacks are the most acrobatic of all whales, why they sing their haunting songs, and why these intelligent, 55-foot, 50-ton animals migrate up to 10,000 miles round-trip every year.

humpback_whales_blu-ray_4Funny that the prevailing message in a documentary studying a particular subject is, “We don’t really know.”

And that’s not because the documentary filmmakers failed to convey valuable information on its subjects: it’s just that even after all this time, the world operates on levels that we will probably never fully understand. Charting and observing the animal kingdom on the African plains or the mountains of the midwest are one thing, but when your subjects live miles out to sea, that presents certain complications. Even the advent of the most cutting edge technology still presents certain hurdles that will, unfortunately, stifle certain areas of study.

But all that aside, certain animals–or mammals–will be forever mysterious, even partially. When a person thinks of humpback whales, or whales in general, inevitably one image will manifest: these magnificent creatures breaching the surface of the water, suspending for just a moment, and falling back down in a massive belly/back flop. Even your average schmoe weaned on the steady releases of the Free Willy series can vouch for that.

But why do they do it? Are they communicating? Are they checking back in with the world above? Or are they just bored?

As the documentary answers, “We don’t really know.”

humpback_whales_blu-ray_2Humpback Whales is broken down into three areas of study. The first provides a basic history of the animal’s first contact with man, which, as usual with anything concerning interaction with us, goes pretty poorly. Commercial whaling cut their numbers down by more than half before regulation kicked into gear, banning the practice in nearly every country in the world. Other areas include the “whale song,” the different kinds of pitches whales use to communicate with each other, and what they mean. And there’s an especially interesting CGI creation that shows an impressive method whales use to trap their tiny prey, krill, in a circle of bubbles, allowing them to feast at their leisure.

Some of the information presented will sound familiar to those with a passing interest in whales, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent for checking out this newest documentary. Some truly awesome footage of these humpbacks, culled from drones, helicopters, go-pros, and underwater cameras, presents them in impressive modern ways and makes the viewer see them, somewhat, for the first time.


humpback_whales_blu-ray_5Obviously this thing was going to look gorgeous, and for a variety of reasons: one, the subject matter–beautiful creatures swimming around in their beautiful ocean home; two–the 40-minute running time leaves a lot of breathing room on this BD-25 disc; three–because it was expertly photographed. Colors are very strong, even when out of the water for those brief moments when we focus on our human subjects. Close-ups on the whales allow their textures to be ably captured. As far as presentation, well, see the below screen cap. This might be the most beautiful looking release so far from Shout!’s 4K UHD line (and this is just the 2D version).

 THE SOUND 4.5/5

humpback_whales_blu-ray_8Also excellent. There’s a huge emphasis on whale song, which is appropriate, being that this form of communication receives a sizable chunk of attention in what’s a brief documentary, and it sounds tremendous thanks to the included Dolby Atmos presentation. Music is a constant presence, and in only one instance does it somewhat overwhelm on-screen narration by one of the involved whale experts. McGregor’s narration receives full prominence, as it should, and is presented cleanly and clearly.


humpback_whales_blu-ray_10The included “making of” featurette discusses the several different shooting locations (Alaska being one of them) and interestingly gets into specifics on how some of the more immersive footage of the humpbacks was captured. They also talk about the difficulties they spaced during shooting.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

— Making Of Featurette
— Trailers for other IMAX releases


humpback_whales_blu-ray_6STUDIO: MacGillivray Freeman Films
DISTRIBUTOR: Shout! Factory
GENRE: Documentary/Nature
VIDEO STREET DATE: August 2, 2016
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 1.78:1; 4K UHD; 3D
AUDIO: English: Dolby Atmos; French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 5.1
RUN TIME: 39 mins


humpback_whales_blu-ray_coverAvailable in a 4K UHD package (which includes 3D and 2D) as well as a standard version (3D and 2D only), this release in Shout!’s documentary line is the best so far. Not just beautifully photographed, and with a broad overview of information presented for the reviewer, the documentary is quick and right to point: Even though commercial whaling is at the lowest it’s ever been, nearly 60% of the species has gone extinct because of it. Slowly but surely they are making a comeback, but more effort must be made to let them be and keep them out of harm’s way. This is a perfect release for the classroom, as the information is vital and easy to understand, and the newness of the technology used to capture these creatures in their home environment is more than enough to enthrall even the most adamant Pokemon-catching student.

(Thanks to Do Blu for the screen grabs.)


Shout!/Scream Factory, LLC is a diversified multi-platform media company devoted to producing, uncovering, preserving and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-Ray™ offerings serve up feature films, classic and contemporary TV series, animation, live music and comedy specials in lavish packages crammed with extras. Shout! Factory also owns and operates Westchester Films, Inc., Timeless Media Group, Biograph Records, Majordomo Records, HighTone Records and Video Time Machine. These riches are the result of a creative acquisition mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. 


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J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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