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Case Number 23642

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Frozen Planet

BBC Video // 2011 // 350 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 9th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan's looking for a Frozen Planet guidebook so he can visit the icecaps himself.

Editor's Note

Our review of Frozen Planet (Blu-ray), published April 7th, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

The original UK series narrated by David Attenborough

Opening Statement

I have nothing against the space program. To this day, I think landing a man on the moon is one of the greatest achievements we can claim as a species. However, before we blast off for the stars, it would be nice to know what we're leaving behind. We've barely scratched the surface of what our own planet Earth has to offer. It doesn't take an "a thousand species a day are disappearing" doomsayer to appreciate that our planet is pretty big, and ultimately we don't know a lot about it. That's especially true of some of its more inhospitable regions: underwater, or at the polar ice caps. As we debate global warming, climate change, and human impact on the environment, we need more access to information about our planet, both to rally people to its defense and to give us an idea of what was going on for future generation to have something to compare to. Enter the portable HD camera and the booming business in nature documentaries. Though they're a genre that's been around for decades and decades, newer technologies have allowed smaller and smaller cameras to go to more and more inhospitable places. In the case of Frozen Planet, that means our polar ice caps. This series captures the beauty of nature alongside its darker aspects, while giving us a healthy dose of info on how we're changing the environment.

Facts of the Case

Frozen Planet is a seven part series co-produced by the BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the Open University. Filmed largely by a BBC unit, this series' style will be familiar to viewers of Blue Planet and Planet Earth, as we follow a year's worth of changes in the polar regions, documenting the lives and habits of a number of indigenous species.

The Evidence

There are two main reasons to watch a DVD like Frozen Planet: The Complete Series. The first is primarily educational. For the foreseeable future, we're all kind of stuck on this big blue ball, and it behooves us to know something about it. One good way to learn about nature is to study it in the way that series allows. We get to see wildlife in its natural environment while the soothing voice of David Attenborough—technically Sir David, for his contributions to broadcasting and education—gives us facts about the environment, plants, and animals. On that level, Frozen Planet succeeds beautifully. This is exactly the kind of programming one should think of when the topic of "educational television" is brought up. It's smart but accessible, and a great way to supplement enjoyment of other media like March of the Penguins or Encounters at the End of the World.

The other reason to watch a series like Frozen Planet is the beautiful cinematography. I could easily see someone muting the volume and putting these discs on at a party. The BBC unit largely responsible for film has outdone themselves, capturing beautiful images of both environments and animals. Even those who don't care a bit about polar bears or global warming can enjoy the amazing imagery the film crew came back with. It's also a great to sneak some education into less-than-willing subjects. Sit them down for the beautiful shots of the Arctic Circle, and they'll stand up knowing more about penguins. It's a win-win.

My only complaint with this DVD set of Frozen Planet is that it's on DVD. This show begs for hi-def presentation. However, for those who have to use standard def, this set is exactly what you would hope for. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean and clear, with fine detail evident in both wide shots and intimate close-ups on animals. Colors saturation is impressive, and no significant compression or artifacting problems mar the presentation. The Dolby 5.1 surround track does an excellent job balancing Attenborough's narration with the enveloping score. For those who enjoy the score, there's an isolated track with just the music included as a bonus.

Other bonus features include a featurette on scientific explorations of the South Pole called "Science at the End of the World." There are also seven making-of featurettes, one for each of the seven episodes, and forty-seven video shorts from the production diaries. There's also a kind of "best of" for the series called "Frozen Planet: The Epic Journey."

Nature can be cruel, at least to human eyes. Though it's by no means the most heartless nature documentary I've seen, there is a bit of cute-fluffy-animal death to contend with in Frozen Planet. Kudos to the filmmakers for not trying to whitewash how harsh the polar regions are, but it might make viewing the film with really little ones a bit problematic.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Frozen Planet is presented in seven parts, and the first six are really about the polar regions. The seventh looks at the impact of global warming. As I've said in previous reviews, I'm a bit skeptical about climate change, but I have to say that there was nothing at all outrageous in the seventh episode. Attenborough and his team provide satellite evidence of the change in the polar icecap size and volume. Though we can't definitely link it to human activity, the episode makes a compelling case for the ways in which the regions are changing. There was initially some concern that the seventh episode wouldn't be broadcast here in the States, and those who are hardcore against any idea of climate change might not react too well to this episode.

Closing Statement

Frozen Planet is another solid entry in the BBC canon of documentaries about our wonderful planet. By focusing on the usually inaccessible locations and exotic animals at our poles, it offers stunning views and lots of opportunities for education. My only complaint about the set is that fans are going to want to go Blu-ray to get an even more impressive look at the series' visuals.

The Verdict

Frozen or not, this set is not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 97
Audio: 95
Extras: 88
Story: 90
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Foreign
• Science and Nature
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Production DiariesFeaturettes
• Featurettes
• Isolated Score


• IMDb
• Official Site

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