Judge Clark Douglas keeps trying to convince his boss to let him spend a year floating down a river in Ireland.
The Shannon as it has never been seen or heard or experienced before.
One of the things I love about the long-running PBS series Nature is the diversity of style it permits from special to special. Yes, you know you're going to get some lovely imagery and learn something new about some aspect of the life of this planet, but the many different folks involved with the series tend approach their assorted subjects from all sorts of different angles. Though some Nature specials tend to be on the more clinical side—dry, straightforward narration fused with gorgeous cinematography—Ireland's Wild River is definitely on the more passionate side of the spectrum. Filmed and hosted by Colin Stafford-Johnson, the special feels less like an encyclopedic overview of a particular area and more like a free-flowing, nature-filled video diary.
Stafford-Johnson spent an entire year wandering down The Shannon, Ireland's longest river (and one of its defining landmarks). It's really kind of amazing when you think about it: a whole year of sights and experiences, distilled into one hour of television. You might think this would lead to a special which feels overstuffed or rushed, but our genial host doesn't seem to feel a need to cram every interesting thing he witnessed into his program. Instead, he selectively picks the most magical or distinctive moments. Early on, there's a gorgeous sequence in which he reflects on the beauty of the river at dawn, and how few people actually take the opportunity to get out and appreciate the sight. The gentle, melancholy music affirms his notions, and sets a wistful tone for the proceedings.
Of course, we're introduced to all sorts of wildlife along the way. I loved the slow-motion images of red squirrels leaping from tree to tree, plus the encounters with kingfishers, pine martens, egrets and other creatures. However, the most affecting moment comes midway through, when Stafford-Johnson hears the call of a male bird who has flown all the way from Africa in search of a mate. Alas, statistics suggest that it's unlikely the bird will find one. "He'll probably be calling all through the night, with no answer," Stafford-Johnson sighs, "And probably all day tomorrow, too." It's a moment worthy of Werner Herzog; a heartbreaking little portrait of a lovesick creature seeking a mate in a foreign land. During its strongest sections, Ireland's Wild River boasts a poetic beauty.
Nature: Ireland's Wild River sports a perfectly satisfactory standard-def transfer. Though the images surely look amazing in hi-def, the 480p presentation is generally pretty solid, offering sturdy detail and bright, vibrant colors. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is simple but effective, highlight the narration, light sound design and the aforementioned score. No bonus features are included.
Those who prefer the "just the fact, ma'am" approach to nature documentaries may be turned off by Stafford-Johnson's more impressionistic methods, but I found Ireland's Wild River a real pleasure. Check it out.
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