It's big, it's furry and it's been buried in ice for 20,000 years.
The Discovery Channel co-funded this expedition to find the Jarkov Mammoth, so named after the Siberian family who found the tusks of the animal and lead the explorers to its location. The channel also produced this documentary, which is narrated by actor Jeff Bridges.
Originally aired in March of 2000, Raising The Mammoth tells the tale of Bernard Buigues and the difficulties he went through to raise the woolly mammoth out of its long-term permafrost grave.
From utilizing his contacts on the Siberian front, to hunting down and finding the resting place of the Jarkov Mammoth. To the first attempt at bringing the long extinct creature up from the depths of time to their second attempt, a full year later, the cameras of the Discovery channel are there.
The documentary ably captures the sense of history and grim determination that Buigues, along with his team, work with. The movie also gives the feeling of how difficult life must be in the Siberian plain. Clearly, this is one of the harshest places in the world to merely exist, let alone work and live with a family. The documentary does an excellent job of showing the intense sense of desperation in which the entire crew worked. The whole point of toiling in the fall when it was still very cold, as opposed to going for it in the warmer, summer season, was raising the mammoth intact and frozen so that the carcass would not melt and deteriorate. In fact, the strongest sequence in the documentary is the one that chronicles the danger filled, feverish work leading up to a massive 26 hour storm that destroyed the encampment and forced Buigues to put off his goal for another year. It is when the feature deals with these harsh realities (and the whole man against the elements angle) that it excels, and makes for compelling viewing.
Another area in which Raising The Mammoth is quite strong is when it shows the true joy and satisfaction of discovery. The impact of touching and smelling, that which has not been seen by man in over 20,000 years is an undeniably powerful image. A powerful image that Raising The Mammoth does justice by. To watch the two expedition specialists, Dick Mol and Dr. Larry Agenbroad, run their fingers though the hair of the partially unearthed woolly mammoth is to see these men experiencing their life's work finally being realized. Once more, powerful stuff.
Being a television production, Raising The Mammoth was shot in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio and that is what is presented here. It's a pretty good image that handles the extreme whites of the Siberian plains with ease. Detail and contrast is strong with there being little in the way of shimmer or pixel breakup. There is crispness to the image that highlights the harsh nature of the surroundings in which most of the film takes place. The picture is also quite strong when the crew ventures to the shadow filled ice caves of Khatanga where the Jarkov Mammoth will be stored and examined.
The sound is listed simply as Stereo Audio. For what it is, it is fairly serviceable. Jeff Bridges' narration comes through clear but on the whole the audio has a kind of hollowness to it. It is nothing that distracts or takes away from the documentary, it is just kind of, well, there. On the plus side, there is no background distortion or hiss that I could make out.
On the extras side there is more here than I would have expected but not as much as I would have liked. There are biographies of the scientists Mol and Agenbroad, as well as one for the lead explorer Buigues. In addition to that there is a very informative mammoth timeline, plus the disc has a text conversation with Bernard Buigues. The extras are closed out with a mammoth fact-file.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My main gripe with the disc is when you are doing something for DVD, especially something that is as informative and fact filled as Raising The Mammoth and you don't utilize the format to its fullest extent, well the audience is not being well served.
This is an expedition that was spread out over a couple of years; surely there must have been literally hours of footage shot. I find it hard to believe that with all that potential footage in the can, all they found useable was 91 minutes worth.
That ties into my second gripe. Working on the assumption that there is more footage available, it drives me crazy to watch a television documentary on home video and know there is going to be a break in the action every 13 minutes or so. Besides having the obvious break, I then have to sit through the brief recap as the next segment starts. If Artisan really wanted to do this right, they would have reedited the documentary so it flowed more like a complete movie. If I'm not going to get anything special when I pick up a disc like this, I don't see any reason why I should not just pass it by on the shelf and be content with a videotaped copy right off of the old VCR.
Raising The Mammoth is science presented in an exciting and gripping fashion. While I had some problems with its home video incarnation, I found the documentary to be both interesting and well produced. I cannot, however, imagine watching it over again anytime soon. I'm glad I saw it but think this is best left as a different kind of rental.
On the other hand, as a teaching tool, Raising The Mammoth would be ideal classroom material. It is recommended for purchase in that regard.
Artisan is congratulated by the court for bringing such diverse material to the world of DVD. They are asked however to put additional thought and effort into making it a more creative experience and one that takes full advantage of the interactive aspects of the medium. That is all I've got. Case dismissed.
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