BBC Video // 2009 // 354 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee // June 2nd, 2009
From Alaska to the Serengeti, this epic six-part masterwork reveals spectacular wildlife images never before captured on film.
Sir David Attenborough's introduction to each episode establishes the theme of this nature series: The power of the sun drives the seasons, transforming our planet. Vast movements of ocean and air currents bring dramatic change throughout the year. And in a few special places, these seasonal changes create some of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth.
A BBC/Discovery Channel co-production, Nature's Most Amazing Events is an extraordinary nature documentary and a worthy follow-up to the landmark Planet Earth: The Complete Series. Each 50-minute episode centers on a seasonal event in a particular region. Attenborough's authoritative narration explains the elements that contribute to these spectacles of nature while breathtaking cinematography observes the amazing behavior of the various animals.
* The Great Melt
The sun reappears after three months of darkness and the Arctic sees summer again. The frozen ocean surface begins to break up allowing whales to navigate the treacherous ice flows. On rocky cliffs, sea birds raise their young hatchlings while various predators come out of hiding on land. Meanwhile, polar bears, the expert hunters of the frozen landscape, find themselves at a disadvantage as their territory shrinks in the warmer weather.
Featured animals: polar bears, arctic foxes, seabirds, narwhals, walruses, belugas
* The Great Salmon Run
The western coastline of North America is spotlighted as this episode traces the 3,000-mile journey of different species of salmon intent on returning to their spawning grounds. Along the way, numerous predatory species depend on the salmon for a much needed meal.
Featured animals: salmon, grizzly bears, wolves, sea lions, eagles
* The Great Migration
In an eastern corner of the Serengeti in Africa, the greatest concentration of grazing animals in the world goes on an annual migration in search of grasslands. Territorial predators like the lion must cope when their abundant food source marches away.
Featured animals: wildebeest, lions, cheetahs, impalas, gazelles
* The Great Tide
The seasonal shift pushes cold water north along the eastern coast of Africa carrying dense shoals of sardines with it. The greatest concentration of predators on the planet converges for a chance to gorge on the immense supply of fish.
Feature animals: sardines, gannet, dolphins, sharks, seals
* The Great Flood
In southern Africa, animals trek across the Kalahari desert to the Okavango. If conditions are right, floodwaters will bring lush life to the dry landscape and provide relief to the thirsty and starving animals.
Featured animals: elephants, termites, buffalo, hippos, lions, water birds
* The Great Feast
Dinner is served in the North Pacific waters along the coastlines of Alaska and British Columbia. Sunlight stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which attract small fish, which in turn attract bigger fish and other predators.
Featured Animals: herring, sea lions, dolphins, humpback and killer whales
This series doesn't have the epic scope of Planet Earth, which used a specific environment or climate as the theme for each episode, but by depicting the full cycle of each unique seasonal spectacle Nature's Most Amazing Events feels more educational than its predecessor. There is also a stronger narrative element to each episode. The plight of polar bears is a reference point during the events of "The Great Melt." A pride of lions is threatened by the lack of food in "The Great Migration." This narrative strategy isn't always successful (I wasn't engrossed in the story of the lions, for example) but there are times when it works wonders in bringing together a lot of separate elements. In "The Great Tide" there is some time spent waiting for the seasonal conditions to develop just right so there is a side story focusing on the gannet, sea birds that prey on the sardines. Without over-emphasizing their story arc, we watch as young birds learn to avoid predators, practice their hunting technique (a dangerous dive into 30 feet of water) and then surprise us with a final trick during the heat of the feeding frenzy that occurs at the climax of the episode.
There have been some excellent high definition nature shows in recent years and this easily ranks among them. The awesome beauty of nature is nicely showcased in this series by great camerawork. If you watch a lot of new nature shows, some of the situations filmed might not be so fresh anymore. Nevertheless, you'll appreciate the footage that brings the action dangerously close. The filmmakers do not shy away from bloody scenes and every episode of Nature's Most Amazing Events features at least one kill in straightforward fashion. The camera doesn't linger gratuitously on the details, but it's clear what happens when predator and prey meet. In an effort to clearly communicate the conditions that lead up to each event, sometimes the footage feels repetitive -- before too long, shots of fish swimming through murky water all look the same. There are also some aerial shots that provide a vantage point of the event that really solidify the immensity of what you're seeing.
We received a screener copy of this title for review so some of the technical details may differ between this and the final retail version. The high definition picture, presented in 1080i resolution, is mostly very good. The picture is clean and the majority of the footage is sharply detailed. Close up and macro photography really show off the fine detail captured by the cameras. Slow motion scenes are impressively smooth and aerial photography is always stable. However, there are a few instances where footage from a lower quality video camera is used. These moments are infrequent but harsh edge lines and dull colors are a noticeable inconsistency to the otherwise high quality image.
The soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, does the job just fine but doesn't make much of an effort to impress us. Most prominent on the audio side is Attenborough's richly informative narration, which can be heard clearly. The music and sound effects are balanced nicely but aren't given the range to stand out.
At the end of each episode is a 10-minute "Diary" segment that shows the cameramen working on location to capture the amazing footage. These making-of segments are really worth watching to appreciate the difficult work involved with photographing nature at its wildest. The first disc of this 2-disc set includes a basic guide to calibrate your HD monitor. There are test patterns for setting the correct aspect ratio, contrast, brightness, sharpness, etc. accompanied by voice-over instructions. Remember to consult your own television monitor's operating manual before making adjustments.
It doesn't quite meet the high standard of the best of its genre -- Planet Earth -- but Nature's Most Amazing Events certainly follows in the same high quality tradition. Each episode contains a wealth of information and the visuals are stunning -- at times, jaw-dropping -- and truly amazing.
Review content copyright © 2009 William Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 354 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* HD Setup Guide