Flight of the Butterflies (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Sep 21, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Flight of the Butterflies (4K UHD Review)


Mike Slee

Release Date(s)

2012 (July 12, 2016)


SK Films/IMAX (Shout! Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Flight of the Butterflies (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc)



Mike Slee’s Flight of the Butterflies is a film experience that sneaks up on you. It opens on a forest thicket filled with Monarchs, then you see an old man in his study – Dr. Fred Urquhart – looking at a cataloged butterfly that he’s preserved. The man reveals that he’s spent his entire career unraveling a mystery about the these tiny creatures. Then the documentary launches parallel narratives: We see Fred as a young boy in Toronto, wondering where the Monarchs disappear to in the cold winter months, and we see a Monarch in the present day, feeding on a milkweed plant in rural Texas. We follow both of these protagonists, Fred as he grows to become a zoologist and the Monarch as it begins its journey north to Canada. Fred eventually marries and he and his wife Nora work to solve the mystery of where the Monarchs migrate, with the help of “citizen scientists” all around North America. And we see the Monarch’s life cycle depicted through successive generations, learning as we go. Both stories eventually converge, as Fred and his wife – now elderly – finally solve the mystery of their life’s work… and the surprising final stage of the Monarch’s migration is revealed.

The film cleverly employs large format photography of landscapes and natural environments, as well large format macro photography of the smallest insect behaviors, occasionally using photo-realistic CG to enhance the subject. All of this was done in 3D for theatrical release (you’ll find a Blu-ray 3D version of the film in this package – more on that in a minute). Actors are employed to dramatize the story of the Urqharts, who have since passed away, and their humble personal quest. The place and moment in which Fred finally realizes the answer to the question he’s asked for so long is not only accurately portrayed in this film, it’s quite simply magical. It’s also deeply affecting; the moment will stay with you for a long time after you see it.

Flight of the Butterflies was shot using RED Epic and Phantom digital cameras, along with 15 perf/70mm film, and Nikon 3Dx and Canon 5D cameras for time-lapse photography. Post production appears to have been done in 4K; it’s that presentation you see here on Ultra HD, presented at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image quality is excellent. There’s extraordinary fine detail apparent throughout the film, visible in everything from vast fields of milkweed, to the tiny hairs on the Monarch’s back, and the millions of scales on its wings. Colors are rich and natural, with a tremendously large palette – they almost burst off the screen in HDR from the moment the film’s opening sponsor logos appear on black. Shadows are deep and detailed, and image highlights cause your eye to react but are never overblown. This is truly a lovely 4K image.

The film’s audio is presented in a highly natural and enveloping English Dolby Atmos mix, with additional audio options available in French and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA. There are also English closed captions for those who need them.

Extras on the UHD disc include a very good Behind the Scenes featurette (HD – 28:37), as well as A Special Message from the President of Mexico (HD – 1:28), an Image Gallery (4K – 1:01), and 4K trailers for the other Shout! Factory 4K IMAX titles currently available, including The Last Reef, Wonders of the Arctic, Rocky Mountain Express, Journey to Space, Flight of the Butterflies, and Humpback Whales (click on the titles to see our reviews of each).

As with Shout!’s other 4K UHD releases, the second disc in this package is a Blu-ray that includes the film in high-definition in both 2D and 3D versions. The Blu-ray 3D experience here is nothing short of thrilling – this isn’t the usual CG action overkill, but rather the presentation of a lovely and naturally immersive visual environment. The stereo effect is precise and detailed, with impressive depth and dimensionality. The macro stereography of the Monarchs is particularly engrossing. This is certainly one of the better 3D experiences you’ll have on this format. Note that the package also includes a code for a digital download version of the film.

Flight of the Butterflies is arguably the cream of the crop among Shout! Factory’s initial slate of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray offerings. It’s a whimsical, fascinating, and rewarding large format documentary film experience that is well worth your time. It’s also very highly recommended. Don’t miss it.

- Bill Hunt