Sony // 2004 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // October 5th, 2005
"It's been an adventure I'll never forget."
I don't watch much Animal Planet, so this is my introduction to Austin Stevens, the self-proclaimed "Snakemaster!" He's really a wildlife photographer; to get his shots, he turns into an adventurer who has learned much about reptiles -- snakes being his favorite cold-blooded creature. In his shows, he's always in search of something. This DVD is a compilation of three episodes where he's on the hunt for some scary, oversized reptiles. And let me just say this right now: this guy is absolutely insane. Even though he knows better, he has no qualms or reservations about putting his face two inches away from some of the most venomous snakes on the planet. What a loon! Enthused about finding something, he forgets what he's dealing with, and only then realizes he's two seconds away from death. It certainly makes for gripping television.
The three episodes of his show contained on this release are "In Search of the Man-Eating Python," "In Search of the Giant Lizard," and "In Search of the Monster Rattler." (Paging Leonard Nimoy...) In "The Man-Eating Python," he's looking for a thirty foot reticulated python (which honestly can eat a person whole); in "The Giant Lizard," a seven foot Perentie; and in "The Monster Rattler," an eight foot eastern diamondback. It wouldn't be much of a show if he weren't successful, so Stevens does find each reptile in the final minutes of the show. And that's my only quibble with his show. Gorgeously photographed in some stunning locales (Borneo, the Red Dunes of Australia, and the Apalachicola region of Georgia), we watch as Stevens slowly makes his way through each environ to where he thinks he'll find the elusive, oversized animal. In some cases, it takes him weeks to do this, but it is edited into a forty minute show. As he plows forward, he finds animals that catch his eye, and he'll lunge down, grab it (again without concern for his safety until after the fact), and talk about it. The narrative is a bit jerky as a result. But we don't see "the big finish" until the final seven minutes of each show. That's a bit too long of a tease, even though the wait is usually worth it, and each creature he talks about is quite fascinating. Still, I guess I'd like my man-eating python a bit earlier in the episode. One other item of note -- Austin Stevens is extremely campy. They have these "re-enactments" (for lack of a better word) of situations where Stevens is in trouble; it's more akin to a high school play than a professionally-crafted nature show.
I have an HDTV at home, and there are two things that are absolutely amazing to watch in high definition: sports and nature shows. The clarity, the sharpness, the details...everything is simply stunning. I may not care about the teams, and I may not care about the nature documentary, but I always find myself stopping just because it looks so darn good. Unfortunately, that is not the case with this DVD. I was disappointed that the sparkle I find on television is missing from this disc. It's not bad for television on DVD, but I know it could be better. At times the picture is soft, with some murky blacks, and even a touch of pixelization in one episode. But the quality does get progressively better with each episode -- all of which are presented in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen. The same goes for the acceptable Dolby Digital 2.0 track -- it's thin but not tinny; hollow but without an echo; and dialogue is easily understood.
The disc comes with a few extras. First up is "Ask Austin Stevens!" (8.5 minutes), which is a collection of three questions posed to the snakemaster. Next up is a text-based "Reptile Facts," with all kinds of good information about the three reptiles featured on the disc. Rounding things out is a "Full Throttle Preview," which is a trailer for various automotive/motorcycle-related television on DVD.
It may be campy, and it may give you the long tease before the big bang, but this disc is informative and enjoyable. Austin Stevens really is a nut, and watching him apparently risk life and limb to catch a snake is maddeningly interesting. However, I'm not so sure I see much replay value in this disc, and with so many nature shows on television (which are better-looking on HDTV), I think I will be withholding a recommendation for the snakemaster.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Ask Austin Stevens!
* Reptile Facts
* Full Throttle Preview
* Official Site