BBC Video // 2009 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // August 21st, 2010
It is the very cradle of mankind.
With each new feature they release, BBC Nature entrenches their supremacy as the go-to source for high quality nature documentaries. When the same creative and scientific force that produced such great features as Walking With Dinosaurs, The Blue Planet, Yellowstone, the uber-documentary Planet Earth, and Life joins forces with Animal Planet and turns their attention to the Great Rift Valley of Eastern Africa, you know you're in for a treat.
It's hard to think of the African continent without thinking of flat, arid landscapes and animals like lions, giraffes, zebras, and elephants, but The Great Rift shows us there is much more to Africa, especially in the more mountainous eastern region. The mini-series is divided into three episodes:
Lined by some of the world's largest and most active volcanoes, the Rift Valley runs approximately 6,000 miles, from Lebanon in the north to Mozambique near the southeastern tip of Africa. Within this region, you'll find some of the world's most unique mammals and primates, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. From the lush slopes of the bordering peaks, to the Serengeti below, the violent volcanic forces that formed the Valley have made it possible for a lush diversity of plant and animal life to grow and flourish.
Beginning as rainfall, the region's two rainy seasons bathe the landscape, fueling the wealth of aquatic life that is found in the Rift's many lakes. Between the rainy seasons, the abundance recedes until only the rivers carry any significant amount of water and the hot climate poses a danger both in the amount of water animals need to survive and the amount of water available. Fortunately, much of the region's water supply is immune to drought, thanks to underground channels that feed water to springs along the region, and the sister lakes Tanganyika and Malawe.
Approximately 30 million years ago, Africa's landscape was almost entirely forest, until the great volcanic upheaval created a large flat landscape between the eastern and western borders of the Rift. The volcanic ash and mountainous regions created soil and weather patterns that proved inhospitable to larger trees, but perfect for the grasses and acacia trees which now dominate Africa's central plains. The setting of complex mating rituals, feeding behavior, and intense battles for survival, the plains of Africa serve as a strong contrast to the mountain habitats of the surrounding regions.
I received a pre-release screener copy of The Great Rift, so the final retail presentation may differ. The series arrives on Blu-ray in a VC-1 encoded 1.78.1 1080i transfer that varies quite widely from scene to scene. Some shots are stunning and certainly close to what we've seen with Planet Earth, but others come across far too soft. The audio mix is clear, giving the tribal rhythms and choral elements appropriate punch, but there's nothing overly immersive here to pull us into the HD experience. The only extras included are three 10-minute featurettes called "Inside the Great Rift" that follow each episode, showing some of the challenges and unique experiences the production crew faced while shooting.
I've really just scratched the surface of The Great Rift. Showcasing Africa's beauty and danger, filled with breathtaking vistas and dramatic animal diversity, this series is a must for nature fans. It's very likely you'll walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for one of the most unique regions on Earth.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS 2.0 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated