Questar // 2009 // 117 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 17th, 2010
Unforgettable landscapes, spectacular scenery and ancient wonders await you in glorious HD.
A Reader's Digest title, released by Questar, Scenic Walks Around the World: Historic Pathways poses the idea that by leaving the roads and highly-travelled paths of the world, you can find some amazing locations and hidden beauty that you might otherwise miss. The release takes the interesting approach of choosing a destination and mapping out a walking route that showcases both natural beauty and historical facts at the same time.
Actor Michael Lumsden, best known for his frequent narration work on documentaries for Channel 4 and BBC in the U.K., as well as Discovery and the National Geographic Channel, lends his pipes to Program One of Historic Pathways. There's just something about a narrator with an English accent that seems to lend an air of class and sophistication to any production, and this is no different. Lumsden's easy pace and warm baritone add to the overall relaxed mood and flavor of the first feature, while delivering historical information in an interesting and engaging way. An American actor based in the U.K., Michael Brandon delivers a strong, but somewhat over-the-top narration for Program Two that focuses on the Great Wall of China. It's not that Brandon is bad per se, more that he seems to be adding a level of sensationalism and drama to his read that doesn't necessarily suit the subject matter.
Historic Pathways is divided into two main features or "Programs," gathered on one disc in both the BD and SD versions:
* Historic Pathways: Machu Picchu, Umbria, The Cathar Trail-Notable for their rich history, breathtaking landscapes, architecture and cultural influences; this feature takes viewers to central Italy, Peru and southwestern France to explore both the beauty and history of these very unique and diverse regions. From the cultural and historical backgrounds, to the breathtaking vistas and ancient architecture, this feature covers a considerable depth of content in its 68 minute run time, without leaving you feel like you just sat through a stuffy university lecture.
* The Great Wall of China- No matter how you look at it, the Great Wall is an amazing spectacle. It speaks to human achievement and ingenuity, while also conveying the immense power (and paranoia) of the Chinese Empire over the centuries. Rebuilt and maintained between the 5th century B.C. and the 16th century, the Wall is an awe-inspiring structure that almost defies the imagination. Divided into six segments, or "Legs," the feature explores the history and majesty of one of the wonders of the medieval world and how the structure still plays a part in modern-day China.
Sometimes Blu-ray releases make no sense to me. If you're developing a production for HD release, it seems to me that you should do whatever you can to ensure the finished project not only warrants, but also showcases the format. While this release boasts three versions of the feature, Blu-ray, SD DVD and a digital copy; in this case more doesn't really amount to more. Comparing the BD and SD versions, the SD version actually comes out on top as an above-average release in that format, whereas the Blu-ray version is a relatively poor cousin.
Watching the Blu-ray version, a discerning viewer may immediately be checking to see if they actually chose the Blu-ray or the DVD, as the picture is just that inconsistent. Focus seems to be all over the map and the hand-held camera work is vertigo-inducing and somewhat distracting. In my mind, if it takes effort to engage in a production that's supposed to take a relaxing look at the natural world around us, you've already lost points. There are some moments of razor-sharp HD clarity and detail here, but they're scattered throughout the entire production. The Blu-ray version of this release feels much like an afterthought, as though it was simply ported over from an SD master. Granted, not every HD documentary can reach the lofty bar set by projects like Planet Earth and Blue Planet, but we should at least be able to see that they tried, shouldn't we? The audio presentation is middle of the road on both the SD and BD versions, as the mix is relatively flat and doesn't add any significant depth to the overall presentation. Aside from including SD and digital copies of the main feature, there are no extras of any kind.
While some of the historical content and natural environments you'll experience in Scenic Walks Around the World: Historic Pathways is worthwhile, you may find that the patience required to dig through the widely varied picture quality may not be worth the effort.
Questar is guilty of delivering a sub-standard hi-def presentation of some amazing content that deserved to be treated with more care.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy