Discovery Channel // 2006 // 473 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 14th, 2010
Do you like the idea of travelling the world without leaving the comfort of your armchair? Good, then have we got a Blu-ray for you. Discovery Atlas: Complete Collection takes viewers on a sweeping journey through eleven different countries, exploring the landscape and the people who inhabit them.
Discovery Atlas features panoramic high-definition photography and intimate storytelling, highlighting the lives and tales of the people who live in these colorful and amazing countries. How they live, what they do for fun, the lives they live, and the people that surround them -- we follow people from all walks of life through their trials and tribulations, triumphs, and defeats. Combined with pristine shots of the amazing natural beauty and cultural wonders, Discovery Atlas captures a surprisingly authentic and moving experience of what life is like living in these amazing locations, places we often can only dream of visiting.
Discovery Atlas contains eleven episodes from the popular Discovery Channel documentary show, spread across two Blu-ray Discs:
* "South Africa"
High-definition travel documentaries are all the rage with Blu-ray fans, and Discovery Atlas is poised quite nicely to reap the benefits. A quite handsome collection of sweeping panoramic footage blended with narrative storytelling, this sets itself apart from the competition of globetrotting shows by taking a unique anthropological approach. People are the focus here, in all of their glorious uniqueness, and through their individual stories do we learn about a particular place, country, or region. Each episode focuses on one geographical location, but focuses entirely on the tales of a few choice individuals from all walks of life, both ordinary and extraordinary.
Each episode focuses on a different country, with its own narrator, selected from a cross-section of Hollywood A-and-B-list actors and actresses. Some of the casting selections are perfect, like Russell Crowe narrating the Australian episode, Edward James Olmos narrating the Mexico episode, Isabella Rossellini on the Italy episode or Masi Oka on the Japan episode. Others are a bit more random, like James Spader narrating the China episode, but all the voiceovers are top-notch regardless. In addition to the aforementioned names, Sela Ward, Andre Braugher, Mira Nair, Candice Bergen, Omar Metwally, and Dan Oreskes contribute.
It's hard to find too much fault with Discovery Atlas; each episode is a satisfying blend of informative regional information, beautiful cinematography, and sumptuous high-definition footage, with personal stories from local individuals whose tales range from the mundane to the surreal. Even the simplest of stories seems compelling here -- there isn't a bad one in the bunch. Your mileage may vary depending on your tastes, but the wide offering of locations and personal stories collected here should cover the gamut of all interests. There is simply nothing wrong with panoramic HD footage of the Siberian wastelands, or of the Egyptian pyramids, or the Taj Mahal, or the Australian outback. If there is a drawback here, it is that Discovery Atlas moves too fast, cuts too quickly to a new subject of interest. There is simply too much to show, too many stories to cram in. The world is a big, beautiful place, and a two-disc set can't do it justice.
This set contains three seasons of episodes from Discovery Atlas, and in terms of satisfying high-definition experiences go, the show gets better in later episodes. Early installments lack ever-so-slightly in the fluidity and sharpness of later installments, no doubt as a result of improved cinematography, budget, and recording technology. While no one would call the early episodes poor by any stretch, you can tell which ones were shot back in 2006 after a few minutes of comparison.
The 1080i transfer fails to deliver that all-important "p," but home theater junkies should still find the presentation more than satisfactory. Colors are marvelously vibrant and saturated, with rich black levels and sharp detail throughout. Older recorded episodes show a bit softer than the most recently recorded ones -- as discussed earlier -- but all stand up quite nicely on the largest HD screens. Detail is quite strong, especially in the tiny nuances of flesh and hair. Every once in a while, Discovery Atlas burps out a peculiarly noisy night shot or oddly recorded bit of footage where the colors dither ever-so-slightly, but these are hardly deal breaking.
Audio disappoints ever-so-slightly with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround transfer. Okay, sure, it does the job well enough with clear dialogue, nicely reactive bass response, excellent use of rear channels and an impressively immersive experience, but it's always disheartening to see Blu-rays that fail to utilize the new lossless codec support. Extras are slim; we get a few regional vignettes, basically expanded content for four episodes, about ten to fifteen minutes in length each.
Alas, it seems dubbing this set the "Complete Collection" is a bit of a misnomer. Each episode during its original broadcast ran upwards of 100 minutes in length, but on Discovery Atlas: Complete Collection (Blu-ray) episodes are truncated to a measly 45 minutes. Nowhere on the packaging does it give any indication of this fact, leaving irate consumers to discover this fact only when they get the product home, out of its shrink wrap.
As cons go, this is definitely pretty high up. Standard operating procedure is to have some disclaimer -- however small -- on the packaging letting customers know of the omissions, but Discovery seems to have dropped the ball. Best advice we can give is if you're genuinely perturbed by the missing content, write the company a letter and let them know you'll be passing on the purchase.
Discovery Atlas: Complete Collection delivers the expected amount of high-definition eye candy and sweeping panoramic shots of exotic world locations, but perhaps less footage than fans were hoping for.
Despite the invasive cuts and truncated run time, Discovery Atlas: Complete Collection (Blu-ray) remains a satisfactory Blu-ray experience for the casual viewer. Yes, it might be missing footage, but what they left in is quite enjoyable to the senses.
Too pretty to be guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 473 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Regional Vignettes
* Official Site