Judge Bill Gibron is a nature boy at heart.
USA…and Animals! USA…and Animals!
By now we've all seen it…the opening to Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama The Newsroom. Jeff Daniels as idealistic (and therefore, highly disgruntled) anchorman Will McAvoy, lecturing a theater full of college kids and a couple of political pundits as to why America is no longer "the greatest country in the world." No matter your position on the subject, your ra-ra patriotism or pure social cynicism, Sorkin's words drive home a decidedly unique point. It's something that's almost implied, not spoken directly. Indeed, what McAvoy seems to suggest is, just because you say it is, doesn't make your statement fact. As the character reels off a laundry list of the typical slams against the US of A, you either nod your head in reluctant agreement or reach in your pocket for a key to your survivalist arsenal.
The Newsroom may see a surreal way to enter into a review of Discovery's latest look at our wildlife brethren, but within North America is enough "USA! USA! USA!" jingoism to fuel a few Tea Party rallies. Clearly going overboard in the whole "how lucky are these animals to be living in this fantastic country" narration (courtesy of Grizzly Adams' spiritual stud muffin, Tom Selleck), this otherwise excellent nature series at least has its cameras in the right place.
Made up of seven individual episodes, here is what the new Blu-ray release has to offer:
• "Born to Be Wild"—the various species in North America and their habitat are discussed
• "No Place to Hide"—how environment affects differing species
• "Learn Young or Die"—pretty self explanatory: the role instinct plays in survival
• "The Savage Edge"—the border between the sea and the land is explored
• "Outlaws and Skeletons"—all about the deserts
• "North America Revealed"—a behind the scenes look at how some of the footage was obtained
• "Top Ten"—the 10 best locations in North America
Using several of our astonishing National Parks as a backdrop and consistently relying on the typical "look, it's NATURE!" shock value, North America is actually pretty darn great. If you like seeing our vanishing wilderness displayed in ways to highlight why it's horrible that they're disappearing, this is the mini-series for you. Sure, it suffers from a busy belief that everything has to be over-explained and you half expect Selleck to break out into Lee Greenwood's "I'm Proud to Be an American" at any given moment. Canada is paid some lip service, as is Mexico and some of the outlying islands. But for the most part, this is Teddy Roosevelt's wettest dream, an overview of the amazing vistas and places where Wal-marts and their bargain desperate customers have yet to invade. Looking out over the Grand Titans or marveling at the glaciers of Alaska, you can't help but feel moved. It's the same with the rain forests of Costa Rica, the prairies of Canada, or the Mississippi Delta. In fact, North America doesn't really need the animals. Just offering up these various backdrops would make for a relaxing, revealing time.
But we have to have critters and that's when Selleck's salesmanship grows a bit stale. It's just weird to hear someone explain away natural behavior in terms that seem to suggest a kind of "national" pride. Granted, the material looks great (most nature travelogues have long since figured out how to depict its subject in the most dramatic and dynamic terms possible), but its couched in significantly surreal terms. That being said, you could do a lot worse in the voice over department. Selleck has a certain magnetism that translates across the screen and you can't help but cheer on the poor four legged underdog as it attempts to avoid its like-limbed predator. While the last two installments here feel like retreads (do we really need a kind of Casey Kasem-inspired countdown of stuff we just saw?) North America is a nice lesson in wild life. It may suffer from some scripted insanity, but for the most part, it makes a convincing visual point.
Technically speaking, you couldn't ask for a better HD presentation. The 1080p/1.78:1 image is near perfect, providing fine detail, a nice level of depth, and a regular rainbow of colors. Even better is the wholly immersive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, which offers up a full channel experience. There is wide range of aural dynamics, with the set-up keeping Selleck up front, the score and the various ambient elements to the side and back. The pièce de résistance is a commentary track for each episode, as well as isolated animal sounds and nature noises for each installment as well. Forget setting your electronic noise making sleep device. Just stick this disc on and hit "The Savage Edge" alterative track and sit back…and relax. The feature length discusses provide a nice overview of the behind the scenes struggles, while a photo gallery gives you flat screen wallpaper choices o'plenty.
Perhaps one reads too much into Tom Selleck's "all Amur-ican" salesmanship. Maybe North America shouldn't be so North American-ccentric. No matter, this is still some interesting real life stuff. It's not perfect, but then again, neither is the nation it's championing. Just ask Aaron Sorkin.
Not guilty. A nice, if slightly strange, nature journal.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
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