BBC Video // 2007 // 147 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 28th, 2008
How the majestic Ganges has shaped the landscape, wildlife, and culture of India.
I am not a traveling man. I wish I were, but I am not. I have never been outside the United States. Someday, when the opportunity arises, I would like to see the world. One of the first places I would like to see is India, which has always struck me as a rather mysterious and wonderful place. The more I see and read about India, the more intrigued I am. There seems to be something serene and intoxicating about that part of the world. I can only imagine how fascinating it would be to actually be there; to see and hear the sights and sounds in person. In the meantime, a documentary such as Ganges will have to suffice.
One might understandably assume that this three-part 2007 BBC documentary is a study of the river Ganges, which runs through the heart of India. That is not really the case. The river is only a springboard for a 147-minute travelogue; a diverse and colorful journey through the nature, people, legends, and wildlife of India. Yes, everything is connected to the river in some way, either intimately or loosely. Sure, we do learn a lot of things about the Ganges itself, but its primary purpose is to serve as a connecting device to a wide variety of colorful vignettes.
Ganges takes an approach that is actually quite similar to the marvelous Planet Earth series. Rather than providing a detailed and complex look at any particular thing, it chooses to offer a broad and sweeping portrait of a whole host of creatures, plants, people, and places. We move from piece to piece quite quickly, rarely spending more than two or three minutes on any specific thing. There is a structure of sorts: we start with the people and wildlife near the source of the river in the Himalayas and slowly but surely follow it to a variety of different places.
I was a little surprised at how smoothly Ganges switches gears between the scientific and the supernatural. One minute we'll be hearing facts about the eating habits of some woodlands creature, and the next we'll be hearing a legend about Shiva's involvement in the creation of the river. The transitions mostly work beautifully, though sometimes the supernatural elements get a little too self-indulgently hokey for their own good (the portentous opening narration is an example). Anyway, I really liked the balance of information between what the river means as both a real-life resource and as a spiritual symbol. We see a level of respect for nature that is quite admirable and touching; it's a shame more parts of the world don't have similar attitudes towards their surroundings.
I'm a sucker for documentaries like this. I love taking a trip to new places, exploring parts of the world that are far different from my own. Just about any film can benefit from being presented in hi-def, but I'm convinced that Blu-ray's greatest argument for existence is found in features like Ganges and Planet Earth. The 1080p transfer goes a long way toward immersing the viewer in a new place. Ganges looks terrific overall, though some of the nature footage is understandably less-than pristine due to rough shooting conditions. The sound is quite strong, with crystal-clear narration, a world-music score and natural ambiance blending in marvelously. Special features include a 26-minute featurette on the making of the documentary, plus 18 minutes of deleted scenes (with music, but without narration).
Geologists and biologists may find Ganges a little too hocus-pocus
for their liking, but I imagine that it will connect quite well with the average
viewer. Personally, I found it a very absorbing watch, and it looks positively
gorgeous in Blu-ray. I hope we'll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing as
the hi-def format continues to convert viewers. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Hindi)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Bengali)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Behind the Scenes"
* Deleted Scenes