BBC Video // 2009 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // October 8th, 2009
"Yellowstone National Park -- one of the most dramatic places on Earth, and one of the most merciless."
The thought that constantly passes through my head as I watch just about any nature documentary (even those I only catch for a minute or two while flipping around on TV) is this: How did they do that? How did these filmmakers get this footage? What patience it must require; what a passion for the subject. It was this thought more than anything that struck me as I watched the BBC documentary Yellowstone: Battle for Life. It is filled wall-to-wall with "how did they do that?" photography and gorgeous, painterly compositions. It's the kind of program that's almost as involving with the sound turned off, where you can just sit and admire every new shot.
The program, which runs about two and a half hours, is split up into three individual episodes: "Winter," "Summer" and "Autumn." It mostly covers the wildlife living in Yellowstone, charting their lifestyles and activities over the course of a year, though it does occasionally get into some of the history of Yellowstone and discusses its natural features (i.e. geysers). A number of different animals and species are covered without favor really being paid to one or another, so viewers will get a nice overview (though it is, at times, quite detailed) of all the wildlife at Yellowstone.
As someone who's still new to HD and Blu-ray, Yellowstone: Battle for Life provides a fun way to take the technology for a test drive. The whole program is essentially beautiful nature shot after beautiful nature shot, and it all looks great. The 1080i video transfer is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, delivering bright, bold colors and lots of fine detail (some of the snow scenes are particularly impressive as you can discern individual snowflakes). The DTS 5.1 audio track is serviceable, but it's not called upon to do much -- the program's soundtrack is comprised pretty much entirely of a rather nice music score and actor Peter Firth's mellow narration. Most of the activity takes place in the front channels, so don't expect your system to get a full nature-immersive workout.
Three short featurettes are included along with the program, detailing the lives and pastimes of some of the residents of Yellowstone (most of which worked on the program in some capacity, too). The first, "Jeff Henry: The Snowman," profiles a nature photographer who remains at Yellowstone during the winter and digs buildings out of the snow; a second, "Geyser Gazers," is pretty much what it sounds like. The final profile, "Mike Kasic: The Fishman," covers a sound recorder who spends his days swimming in the river. All three are presented in standard definition.
While it never transcends its particular genre (it's not likely to create any new fans of nature documentaries), the audience that it's intended for will find a lot to like in Yellowstone: Battle for Life. At two and a half hours, it can be a bit of a slog for folks not predisposed to like this sort of thing, but it's never less than interesting and beautiful to look at. Sometimes that's enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* BBC Earth