National Geographic // 2010 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 30th, 2010
It was once known as, "the place where Noah left his ark."
I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for nature documentaries. Give me some exotic locations, cool animals, some faux-tribal music, plus a narrator with plenty of gravitas, and I'm pretty much set. It's rare to come across a nature documentary I actually dislike, but I'm particularly fond of the National Geographic documentaries because they do such a fine job of combining the aforementioned familiar elements in a compelling manner. Africa's Lost Eden is no exception.
The 50-minute special centers on Gorongosa National Park, located in Mozambique. Once one of the most popular parks in the entire world, in recent times it has suffered a great deal at the hands of (I'll give you one guess) humans. Wars that were fought in the region led to lots of extra hunting, poaching and general slaughtering, which severely damaged the animal population in the area (particularly some of the larger creatures like elephants, zebras, buffalo, hippos and lions). While this former paradise hasn't exactly been transformed into a trash heap (certain types of wildlife still thrive in the area), Gorongosa is certainly a shadow of its former self.
Africa's Lost Eden focuses on revealing the devastating nature of what has happened there and the attempts that are being made to restore Gorongosa. We watch the incredibly challenging process of capturing elephants from other parts of Africa and transporting them to Gorongosa in the hopes that they will mate with the native elephants there. This undoubtedly sounds difficult, but I had no idea just how complicated such a process would be. Despite being big creatures, a tranquilized elephant is easily susceptible to dying from complications if left unattended. In a rather heartbreaking twist, the elephant we follow over the course of the story (humbly named G-5) does not survive the process when forced to undergo it a second time.
Though the strongest material in Africa's Lost Eden focuses on the condition of Gorongosa, a generous portion of time is dedicated to that reliable staple of nature documentaries: animals hunting other animals. You'll see tension-filled footage of crocodiles hunting catfish, lions hunting gazelles, large birds hunting baby crocodiles, and so on. This material benefits from National Geographic's stunning nature footage and Keith David's (The Princess and the Frog) sonorous narration. It seems like I've been hearing David's voice more and more over the past year (a quick check of IMDb reveals him to be one of the busiest actors working today), which is fine by me as he has a tremendous set of pipes and is perfectly-suited for stuff like this.
Though the Blu-ray release undoubtedly gives Africa's Lost Eden its best possible presentation, the DVD actually looks very solid. Detail is excellent, blacks are rich and deep, shading is strong...the disc is about as strong as one can expect standard-def to be. Audio is also good, with David's deep voice coming through with strength and clarity. The slightly derivative music also sounds solid, and blends nicely with the natural sounds captured. The only extra on the disc is an additional special entitled Stalking Leopards, which is worth a look but lacks the depth and fascination of the main feature.
While I do think that Africa's Lost Eden could be priced a little lower given the brief running time (it lists for $20 and isn't being sold for much lower than that by online retailers), this is an exceptional entry into the nature documentary genre and is well worth checking out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: National Geographic
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Program