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Case Number 26693: Small Claims Court

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National Geographic: Best of 125 Years

Gorilla
1981 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Secrets Of The Titanic
1986 // 51 Minutes // Not Rated
The Incredible Human Body
2002 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Search For The Afghan Girl
2003 // 53 Minutes // Not Rated
Exploring New Frontiers: National Geographic At 125
2012 // 45 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by National Geographic
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 14th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan still hasn't made it to the North Pole.

The Charge

Inspiring people to care about the planet.

The Case

As fraught as it can be to try to imagine what the future will hold, it can be equally difficult to imagine the past. The National Geographic Society was founded in 1888. To the best of our knowledge, no one had been to the North Pole, no one had reached Everest's summit, and manned flight was still almost two decades in the future. And yet humanity was beating back the blank parts of the map with incredible vigor, spurred on by the industrial revolution. The dark side of that push was the destruction of indigenous peoples, the excess production of pollution, and the stripping of previously untouched land.

The National Geographic Society represents an attempt to make up for the sometimes negative aspects of human progress. Founded to "increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical, and natural resources," the Society funds exploration and education about the world and its cultures. However, they soon figured out that no one will try to conserve what they don't care about. National Geographic was their response, a monthly magazine that disseminated the information the Society helped fund. By 1905 it started published photographs, and by the end of the twentieth century, National Geographic was one of the most famous brands in photography and culture. So famous, in fact, that they've moved from still photos in their magazines to producing video content. National Geographic: Best of 125 Years collects five of their more important specials on two discs, and is a great gift for NatGeo fans:

• First up is Exploring New Frontiers: National Geographic at 125. It's basically a state of the union address for what's cutting-edge about NatGeo research. Over the next 45 minutes, we get 5-minute segments on everything from James Cameron's record-breaking dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, to a cure for Ebola before winding up with a story about putting video cameras on cheetahs.

• Incredible Human Machine spends 85 minutes look at the human body. We get everything from cameras all over (and all in) the body to explanations of the mechanics of things like dancing and singing. There's even a little surgery for those who like medical footage.

• Gorilla is an earlier example of NatGeo filmmaking. It eschews the typical pulse-pounding editing of contemporary cable programming, instead lingering with gorillas in the wild and the scientists who study them.

• Search for the Afghan Girl is a follow-up to one of the most famous NatGeo covers (called the Afghan Girl). Though her image on the 1985 cover of the magazine made her one of the most recognizable faces in the world, her identity was unknown (at least here in the West). Search follows a team trying to locate her in 2002, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. It was a successful project, and this documentary tells us a lot about the recent history of the region.

• Finally, Secrets of the Titanic does what it says on the tin. It follows Robert Ballard's exploration of the wreck of the Titanic (using the U.S. Navy's Alvin submersible), interspersing footage of the exploration with archival footage and accounts of the passengers narrated by Martin Sheen.

As a sampler of what National Geographic has had to offer in terms of documentary over the last thirty or so years, Best of 125 Years is great. There's no denying that three earlier documentaries (included here on the second disc) are some of the best, most significant work that National Geographic has been involved in. They not only cover important parts of history (like the exploration of the Titanic), but became significant events themselves. The newer material on the first disc suffers a bit by comparison; National Geographic at 125 isn't the media event that Ballard's Titanic exploration is, but that's a quibble. The stories in both specials on the first disc are fascinating examples of what's happening on the edges of human knowledge.

The specials are presented on these two discs in their original aspect ratios: 1.33:1 for the older material, and 1.78:1 anamorphic for the new stuff. Gorilla looks the worst, and since it's the oldest that's understandable. Color and detail aren't as vibrant as a full restoration might make clear, but it's very watchable. There's a steady increase in quality until National Geographic at 125, obviously shot on HD equipment, which looks as good as contemporary broadcast television can. The audio is similarly graded—Gorilla sounds a bit muddy, with steady improvement until the most recent special, which sports crystal clear audio. All of the specials include English subtitles. There are no extras.

It seems unfair to be upset by what this set isn't, but I find Best of 125 Years a bit misleading. The three of the five documentaries included here are certainly among the best of National Geographic productions, but that covers the last thirty or so years, at best. There's no real retrospective look back. Basically, the title leads me to think that this set is going to contain a much more retrospective documentary, or some other nod to NatGeo's rich history before 1981. Sadly, we don't get that. That's not a huge problem if you know what you're in for, but the title might mislead a few buyers.

National Geographic: Best of 125 Years is perfect for those looking for a single release to get a handful of classic National Geographic specials. It's due out in January, but an advance order for who likes National Geographic would be a great gift, and it's also great for teachers or parents who want to introduce a little wonder to young people.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice, Gorilla

Judgment: 89

Perp Profile, Gorilla

Studio: National Geographic
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gorilla

• None

Scales of Justice, Secrets Of The Titanic

Judgment: 91

Perp Profile, Secrets Of The Titanic

Studio: National Geographic
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 51 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Secrets Of The Titanic

• None

Scales of Justice, The Incredible Human Body

Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, The Incredible Human Body

Studio: National Geographic
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Incredible Human Body

• None

Scales of Justice, Search For The Afghan Girl

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Search For The Afghan Girl

Studio: National Geographic
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 53 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Search For The Afghan Girl

• None

Scales of Justice, Exploring New Frontiers: National Geographic At 125

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Exploring New Frontiers: National Geographic At 125

Studio: National Geographic
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 45 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Exploring New Frontiers: National Geographic At 125

• None








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