Judge Clark Douglas would rather view a breathtaking portrait of Yosemite Sam.
The Ultimate National Parks Experience
I've been watching and reviewing a lot of nature films lately. To be more specific, I've been watching and reviewing a lot of rather good nature films lately. BBC documentaries like Wild China, Planet Earth, and Ganges. IMAX films such as The Alps and Mystery of the Nile. I've enjoyed it all immensely, and worried that if I reviewed too many more releases of such majestic splendor, that I would be forced to start repeating all of my positive adjectives. Sure enough, yet another series of nature documentaries is next on my agenda. It's a box set called Scenic National Parks, which compiles a total of six 49-minute programs that were produced for the Travel Channel back in 2006.
The three primary features here are "Grand Canyon," "Yellowstone," and "Yosemite," which focus on popular and well-known national parks. Each of these primary features is joined by a backup feature, which centers on less popular attractions: "Grand Teton," "Wild National Parks," and "National Parks of the Great Southwest. " Each film attempts to give us a broad look at the tourism, accommodations, animals, plants, and geology of the park being discussed. Though the primary features spotlight high-profile parks, each area is given an equal amount of attention and discussion. This means that "Yellowstone" feels a bit rushed, while "Grand Teton" piddles around for quite a while (showing us lots of footage of rock climbers and explaining that the mountains look like giant…uh, you know).
Though the documentaries are quite good-looking, I'm afraid that I don't have nearly as much praise to lavish upon this set. Frankly, I found the documentaries themselves to be a bit on the dull side, which is something I would most assuredly never say about the films mentioned in the first paragraph. The first problem comes from the narration, which sounds terribly wrong for this sort of thing. When narrating a nature film, you're supposed to sound calm, intelligent, wise, and thoughtful. Right? You can hear the smooth voice of David Attenborough now: "Observe as the Gray Tree Frog considers his next move. Does he make an attempt to break out into the unknown, or does he simply turn around and give up? He has to be quite careful, because there are sure to be lots of nasty Bull Frogs wandering about that would love to have our little gray friend for supper." You get the idea. Here, we're given a narrator who sounds as if he is doing the trailer for Beverly Hills Chihuahua or How to Eat Fried Worms. He's got that vaguely sarcastic, overcooked tone: "We're gonna take a good look at the Grand Canyon, which is one of the most magnificent sights in the whole world!"
Call my complaint superficial if you like, but I found the narration to be quite annoying. It seems to cheapen the documentaries a bit, as we always feel like the narrator is a children's storyteller who is talking down to us rather than helpfully informing us. Since there is no indication that these documentaries were intended for young kids, I disapprove. Of course, adding to this is the general lack of substance to these documentaries. There is a surprisingly small amount of genuine information, and a whole lot of hyperbole. Yes, we realize that Yellowstone is an "awesome place filled with amazing animals," but how about some more stats? This business makes the style-over-substance Planet Earth seem like a science textbook.
I feel that all of these features play way too much like tourism advertisements rather than as in-depth documentaries. I suppose that makes sense, considering that they were produced for the travel channel. Still, I think that films like these should make us feel like we have been somewhere, not just tease us and make us want to go there. That is precisely what Scenic National Parks does, though. It spends time talking about all the different places you can go in the park, what the most essential tourist attractions are…we even get a significant amount of time devoted to talking about the hotels and inns in the area. "Yes, we have 87 rooms, and there's usually something free, so it's a great place for our guests to just drop in and stay at while they're on vacation." What is this, a chamber of commerce video?
These complaints aside, these films do look pretty good in hi-def, though that has a lot more to do with the lush visuals being presented than with the quality of the transfer. The image here is actually a little soft and lacking in sharp detail, but the natural images we're being presented with are frequently so lovely that we're fooled into thinking that this is a great-looking release. Audio is adequate, but nothing more. The largely synthetic scores really lack punch, and the attempt to conjure up an artificial large-scale orchestra only highlights the limitations of the electronics. There's nothing here that will make your spine tingle, but it's a clean track. There are no supplements of any kind. I'm tempted to give the set a pass for simply offering a hi-def look at some lovely places, but no. There are all ready numerous superior options available on Blu-ray, and there are surely more to come. Guilty.
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