SKD // 2006 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // January 7th, 2010
A picture's worth a thousand roars!
Christine and Michel Denis-Huot are a wife and husband team of wildlife photographers. Their specialty is capturing images of the animals on the vast African savannah. Their award-winning photos are a testament to the beauty and wonder of nature, sometimes seen in all its raw and savage glory, and speak to the importance of maintaining the nature reserves. Director Jean-Thomas Renaud, following the couple on one of their expeditions, made Photographes de l'impossible for French television. That documentary is repackaged by SKD as Wildlife Photographers for North American audiences.
In their customized SUV, Christine and Michel set out on a photo safari in a Kenyan nature reserve. Their vehicle is like a photography gunship: camera "turrets" mounted on the doors and a quick access hatch in the roof allows these shooters to focus their lenses from safe surroundings. When you see the lens barrels longer than their arms poking out of the windows, it's clear these two are serious about their gear. There is also computer equipment to allow the sorting and touch-up work in the evenings. Plus, they pack enough supplies to last a few weeks out in the wilderness.
Watching Christine and Michel at work is quite interesting, and shutterbugs may get more out of overhearing their comments on what equipment at what settings are best suited to each situation. They work together shooting their subjects but Christine also manages their camp and meal logistics. They are a team and they sign their works with both of their names regardless of who actually took the shot. While their relationship as life and work partners is unique, observing them going about their business gets repetitive after about 30 minutes. There isn't a narrative arc for the film so it feels like we're just tagging along while they drive randomly around the savannah looking for animals. Unexpected problems, like removing a large snake from inside one of the wheels, provide a welcome change to their routine.
The video cameras do a good job of recording life on a photo safari. Michel is often crawling in the dirt to find a good angle without spooking the animals and seeing him in action gives a good sense of how much persistence and patience is required to get those amazing shots. The film also captures a lot of bloody footage of the wildlife doing their thing. It isn't quite on the level of scenes that would make up their own nature film but it's informative enough for the glimpse of animal behavior.
The picture on this DVD has good sharpness and a balanced exposure. The footage of animals is beautiful and there are plenty of inserted frames of extraordinary Denis-Huot photographs that also display great detail. The colors aren't very vivid, however, resulting in much of the footage looking like it were shot on overcast days. Disappointingly, the picture is presented in non-anamorphic, letterboxed widescreen. On older generation monitors, there will be black bars above and below the picture. On 16x9 screens, there is empty black on all four sides. If your monitor has a zoom function, the 1.78:1 picture can be made to fill the screen without distortion. Still, that's really substandard video presentation.
Unfortunately, the audio on this DVD is a mess. There are no subtitles so viewers are at the mercy of a shockingly lazy audio transfer. The film has been translated into English courtesy of voiceovers and this is fine when the narrator is the only person you hear. Christine and Michel do a lot of talking over the course of the film, speaking to each other as they work and telling viewers about what they're seeing on screen. Their original French dialogue is retained on the soundtrack and heard simultaneously with the translated voiceovers. Instead of lowering the French voices when needed, both languages compete at the same volume level, on the sole audio option. Listening to this is like being trapped in the middle as two separate conversations are shouted past you. If you strain, you can hear most of the English dialogue, but it shouldn't be a chore to hear the film. This cross-talk audio mix makes up more than half of the spoken moments of the film. That's to say, half of the film is unpleasant to hear.
There are no extras on this disc even though the packaging promises "a gallery of more than 160 photos." Either that photo gallery was omitted after the product art was approved or they're referring to the still photos that are shown during the film. The running time listed on the packaging is also incorrect.
Wildlife Photographers could have been a modest but worthwhile nature-themed documentary. Sadly, the imported and repackaged version from SKD is lazily assembled. The botched audio presentation essentially makes the film unwatchable. The lack of quality assurance is echoed on the inaccurate packaging artwork and the phantom extras are sure to frustrate anyone who buys this neglected effort.
Guilty. Feed this one to the lions.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated