IMAX - 1.44:1
Written by: David L. Hamilton, George Casey, Dr. Lawrence Blair, Sean Phillips
Directed by: George Casey
Starring: Robert Foxworth (narration), Dr. Lawrence Blair, Dr. Norman Banks, Gary Rosenquist
Although not one of the best IMAX films I've seen, Ring of Fire succeeds if only because of its fabulous visuals. The "Ring of Fire" of the title examines the various seismic activities that take place around the Pacific rim region, and mainly involves volcanoes and earthquakes. After an introductory segment, there is an examination of San Francisco's destructive 1989 earthquake which is brought to life though video footage taken during the event. Next up is a section on Mt. St. Helens, featuring various before and after shots of the mountain, and a look at the mechanics of plate tectonics and various lava flows, which included some nice underwater footage. The next two sections deal with the people who live in the shadow of active volcanoes - the inhabitants of Sakurajima, Japan (where ash falls are a daily occurrence), and a Buddist colony in Bali performing a ritual ceremony (a volcano wiped everything out of existence only decades earlier). The final segment again deals with Mt. St. Helens, and we are shown how the entire region is rebuilding itself anew, and how the mountain is slowly rebuilding its slopes. Overall, I enjoyed viewing Ring of Fire, but I have to admit that the program left a bit to be desired. Robert Foxworth's narration is fine, but I was personally hoping for a more in-depth approach to the subject matter at hand instead of just generalizations. However, I love watching volcanos and lava flows, and the footage definitely held my attention throughout the entire show. There are also a couple of neat (for 1991) computer animation sequences describing the massive geological forces taking place deep inside our Earth. One additional thing though - if you've been watched any of the documentaries produced for The Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel over the past few years, you've probably already seen all the footage contained within this film and more - however, it's still very nice to have these images available in one place.
Ring of Fire was released by Lumivision on June 4, 1997. The program was originally filmed in the 70mm IMAX process and shown theatrically with a 1.44:1 aspect ratio, but this DVD transfer appears minimally cropped (you really wouldn't notice the difference between the 1.44:1 original and the 1.37:1 transfer anyway). This DVD was authored by AIX Entertainment, and the transfer itself is very good, having a sharply-defined image with strong colors. The image isn't quite as glossy as you might think it should be for some segments, and it looks just a little flat, but I am unsure as to whether this is a fault of the transfer or just the way the original IMAX film looked (I tend to think it's the way the original looked). Also, you need to make sure that your black levels are set correctly - I have a few different settings for my television depending upon the video source (TV, LD or DVD), and I forgot to switch it to my DVD setting when I first starting watching this disc. The blacks were more grayish, and I noticed some minor shifting in the solid black colors - once I made sure my DVD settings were correct, the disc looked great! In any event, the transfer looks just fine, and the disc exhibits none of the minor artifact problems (i.e. "blocky" fades, etc.) that were present on some of Lumivision's earlier transfers.
The soundtrack for Ring of Fire is presented only as an English-language 2-channel Dolby Digital surround stereo mix. Because of the subject matter, you would expect the rumblings of the various volcanos to reverberate powerfully throughout your house. Instead, they come across as somewhat weak stomach grumblings, and the soundtrack never lives up to its full potential. As it stands, the soundtrack is okay, but the title definitely seems as if it would have benefited greatly from a full Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. I also noticed that the standard volume level seemed to be set too low on the DVD, and I found myself having the turn the volume up much higher than normal to compensate for it (basically, unless I want my neighbors to hear what I'm watching, I usual have my volume set to around "6" or "7" - for Ring of Fire, I had to up this to around "11" or "12"). Aside from the English soundtrack, no other language options are available on the DVD.
The DVD does not contain any subtitles, nor is the program closed-caption encoded.
Ring of Fire's interactive menu features a single page allowing you to select any one of the disc's 8 chapters via text descriptions.
This DVD is "Available Worldwide" and will play in any player in any country (it does not have any regional coding). Ring of Fire has been packaged inside a standard, compact disc "jewel box," and the four-page booklet included within contains a listing of all 8 chapter markers.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 06/27/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97