Judge Clark Douglas is currently working on a documentary about the strange bugs living under his couch.
Our reviews of Galapagos (published May 2nd, 2007), Ganges (published July 30th, 2008), Ganges (Blu-Ray) (published July 28th, 2008), Planet Earth (Blu-ray) Special Edition (published October 15th, 2011), Planet Earth: The Complete Series (published April 24th, 2007), and Wild China (published July 30th, 2008) are also available.
Four remarkable documentaries collected in one box set for the first time.
For years, the BBC has been producing high-quality nature documentaries that have gained a good deal of popularity. Their most successful was arguably Planet Earth, an eleven-part series that may very well be the single most ambitious project of its type. In this box set, BBC Video has combined Planet Earth with three other noteworthy documentaries: Wild China, Ganges, and Galapagos.
Facts of the Case
Three of the documentaries in this set focus on a specific area of the world. First up is Ganges, which follows the mighty river through different parts of India. While the river is a subject of some consideration here, it is primarily a catalyst for the examination of India. We get a look at various cultures, people, and places, and get a good sense of what life is like in different parts of India. There is also a good portion of time devoted to animal and plant life in the area. The documentary is divided into three sections: "Daughter of the Mountains," "River of Life," and "Waterland." Narration is provided by Sudha Bhuchar (EastEnders).
The approach to Wild China is quite similar. It also combines a look at the everyday aspects of Chinese life with a broad overview of the wildlife in the area. This documentary runs twice as long as Ganges, and is divided into six sections: "Heart of the Dragon," "Shangri-La," "Tibet," "Beyond the Great Wall," "Land of the Panda," and "Tides of Change." Narration is provided by Bernard Hill (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).
Galapagos is a study of the numerous Galapagos Islands, and tends to have a heavier focus on animals than the previous two documentaries. This documentary is divided into three sections. The first section offers a broad overview of the various islands, and introduces us to some of the more unique and fascinating animals on the island. "The Islands That Changed the World" is the second section, and has a discussion of how important the islands were in Darwin's development of the theory of evolution. Finally, "Forces of Change" discusses geological issues in addition to take a closer look at some more wildlife. Narration is provided by Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton).
Finally, we have Planet Earth, the broad and sweeping overview of the entire world that is broken into eleven segments: "From Pole to Pole," "Caves," "Mountains," "Fresh Water," "Deserts," "Ice Worlds," "Great Plains," "Jungles," "Shallow Seas," "Seasonal Forests," and "Ocean Deep." It is narrated by David Attenborough (The Blue Planet).
These days, you can create an image of just about anything. The advancement of CGI has turned epic sights and jaw-dropping disasters into everyday routines. Still, no matter how impressive technology gets, it will never manage to equal the thrilling experience of witnessing the real-life wonders of nature. In this box set, we are given four documentaries chock-full of stunning imagery that will undoubtedly send you into sensory overload, if viewed in one sitting. I'm still reeling from going through the set in a matter of days. I do not recommend that you do the same. Watch these documentaries one or two sections at a time, taking the time to savor and appreciate the beauty of what you are being presented with.
The documentaries have a couple of significant things in common with each other. First, there is an emphasis on beautiful and fascinating imagery in every single one of them. This is a very "stylized" portrait of nature, not a detailed-and-gritty catalogue of animal and plant life. These documentaries only want to offer up the most extraordinary moments. Planet Earth in particular could be accurately described as "nature's greatest hits," and the others more or less follow that pattern. However, this level of nonstop beauty and wonder comes at the expense of detail. Do not expect the sort of thoroughly informative Natural Geographic documentary that gives you lots of facts and information. The narration in each documentary takes a good deal of poetic license, offering a blend of straightforward facts and purple prose that may make the science buffs in the audience roll their eyes. Everyone else will undoubtedly be thrilled by the experience. While I do value in-depth studies of nature, there is also a place for the sort of thing on display in this collection, and I'm glad these documentaries were made the way they were.
Though I personally feel that Planet Earth is the most impressive achievement here, everything included in this collection is pretty level in terms of quality. There isn't a single sequence offered up here that isn't absolutely absorbing and engaging. All four narrators do a fine job, with Bernard Hill of Wild China winning my vote as the best of the bunch. All four documentaries also benefit from exceptional music. Wild China and Ganges tend to focus on regional instruments, but Galapagos and Planet Earth benefit from superb orchestral scores. Mark Isham provides the atmospheric music for the former, while George Fenton turns in a very diverse and colorful effort for the latter (Fenton has been scoring these documentaries for some time, including the excellent series The Blue Planet).
The hi-def transfers are mostly superb, but with one major caveat: everything except Planet Earth receives an interlaced transfer. That's pretty disappointing, but that aside, these are about as strong as anything I've seen in 1080i, and still far and away better than standard-def. Still, the 1080p transfer Planet Earth is by all means a standard-setter, and it will be difficult to top. Audio is also strong on all four efforts, again with Planet Earth sounding the best. Music tends to be the key audio element here, as the sound effects of nature fade in and out, depending on the footage being used.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In terms of supplements, this set is a big disappointment. All of the discs are identical to the previous hi-def releases, which were pretty thin on extras. Ganges receives a featurette and deleted scenes, but both of these amount to little more than additional footage. Wild China has a nice making-of featurette that is pretty engaging. That's it, as Planet Earth and Galapagos both receive bare-bones treatment. That's something worth complaining about, particularly considering that the Planet Earth DVD release did indeed have some noteworthy special features.
Also problematic is the price. You would think that a box set like this would offer some small discount, but the retail on the set is a whopping $200. Sure, you can find the set for $130 at Amazon and elsewhere, but you would spend no more if you were to simply purchase the films individually. It would have been nice if BBC Video could have shaved ten or twenty bucks off the price tag. As it is, this set is simply not worth purchasing if you all ready own one of the titles included here. You're better off picking up the other three individually.
Finally, I'll make a note once again of the fact that these offer a pretty minimal amount of in-depth education. These documentaries are lush tributes to nature, not scientific examinations of it.
Everything here is well worth seeing, and it's nice to have everything in one box for those who do not own any of these titles. Still, a lack of special features and a steep price tag may keep some viewers away from The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection.
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