BBC Video // 2007 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // July 30th, 2008
How the majestic Ganges has shaped the landscape, wildlife and culture of India.
A trip from the heights of the Ganges in the Himalayas to the Bengali Delta in India would be a beautiful and wonderful trip to take. It would be a unique and stunning journey full of natural beauty, as well as religious and cultural significance. Like many of the Verdict readership, however, I lack the time and money to make such a journey. While I certainly won't claim that Ganges is a true replacement for actually being there, this BBC documentary is probably as close as most of us can afford to get -- and offers us a very capable tour guide.
Ganges is told in three chapters, following the journey of The Ganges through its various locations and seasons. Each episode has a different focus and feel:
* Daughter of the Mountains
The first episode truly is the story of The Ganges, as it tracks the river through four sources, connecting the river to local Hindu mythology.
* River of Life
Taking some departure from the story of the river itself, the second episode focuses on the central portion of the great Indian river, as well as the wildlife and civilization that The Ganges supports.
The third episode hardly seems about the river at all. Instead, we see how changes in society and landscape have impacted the lives of the animals and people along the banks of the southern part of the river. It brings in an additional story as a tiger is tracked through the region.
I've had the opportunity to review quite a few BBC documentaries for DVD Verdict now, and they always represent a good opportunity. Like many of them, Ganges offers a stunning journey, full of excellent cinematography and a thoughtful approach to the content. In this case, we get to see the delicate balance between the river, human civilization, and the animal life of the area. Climate change is having a huge impact on the river, which the settlements rely on for all areas of life. Likewise, people depend on the wildlife to maintain a safe balance as well, but have also been pushing back many species as the population of India grows and industrializes.
What really impresses me about Ganges, however, is that this message of protection and environmentalism never takes over the documentary. Instead, the focus is on the significance of the river itself. The first episode demonstrates how the human dependence on the river has grown into religious significance, which then flows back out to practical significance as the river constantly refreshes itself from monsoons, mountain glaciers, and other small rivers. By the time it reaches the end of its journey, the river is gigantic, enough to produce crops to feed the enormous population nearby. Throughout human history, rivers have been equated with survival, and The Ganges is no exception for the nation of India.
At times, though, I was tempted to just turn off the sound and bask in the remarkable images that we are offered throughout Ganges. The film crew has done a dazzling job in capturing the landscape around the Ganges as well as the wildlife. Of course, this does lead to one of the major weaknesses of the DVD release. While the documentary was shot for High Def and the transfer down to DVD has been acceptable, much of the show's impact is lost when seen at this resolution. All of the episodes and special features are crammed onto one disc, and it's often easy to see some compression artifacts, especially in scenes of rushing water (the achilles heel of the format). Since the Blu-Ray edition has been released at only a few dollars more, I would heartily recommend the high definition version for anyone with a high-def player and television. (I'm a bit jealous of Judge Douglas right now).
There are a couple special features on the disc, the first being a production featurette that shows how much less fun it is to film these locations as it is to see it on film afterwards. It's interesting to watch how the sequences were filmed, though. As well, we do get nearly twenty minutes of deleted footage as well, mostly of people and the Indian culture.
For those of us without high-def capability, the Ganges DVD still has quite a bit to offer. I learned a lot about Indian geography, culture and wildlife as I watched it, and I was impressed by the imagery that fills the screen with such color and majesty. For anyone who can't afford a pilgrimage to the heart of the Himalayas by way of the Ganges River, this documentary will at least make you wish you could.
Review content copyright © 2008 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Bengali)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Hindi)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Featurette
* Deleted Scenes