Judge William Lee thought plate tectonics was that trick where you make them spin on sticks.
Every place on our planet has a story to tell of life, landscape, man and the connections between them that stretch across space and time.
Considering the abundance of quality nature shows available these days, thanks to specialty television channels and intrepid filmmakers armed with the latest digital camera technology, what can be shown that is new? Discovery Channel's Atlas: Uncovering Earth tries to put a new spin on things using a free-association format that paints a big picture understanding of a region of the planet. It's an ambitious presentation that encompasses geology, biology, zoology and human history. Three episodes, each approximately 42 minutes, of the series Atlas 4D are contained on the disc:
• "Great Rift Valley"
The fourth dimension alluded to in the title is, apparently, time. Using CGI animation to illustrate geological events that happened eons ago, each episode focuses some energy explaining how the landscape of its subject region came to be. Then we learn how flora and fauna emerged on that landscape and how they are unique to it. Man's impact comes next as we learn how the land was populated by our ancestors and how the ways of current inhabitants reflect that history.
The information comes at a quick pace in this program but it is never overwhelming. Fans of nature shows will likely know some of the facts that are shared here but it's their connections to a bigger picture that are most interesting. The lakes of the Great Rift Valley have a huge variety of fish, as the show explains, because of the intermingling of species when the bodies of water were connected. The unique vegetation of the Hawaiian Islands is the result of a resilient plant in an initially hostile environment. If those two statements seem simplistic, that's not a reflection of the information provided in the show. The script, narrated by Campbell Scott, is more in-depth but the ease with which viewers can come away with understandable and connected concepts is a mark of the show's value.
The photography in Atlas: Uncovering Earth is on par with other Discovery Channel productions. Beautiful scenery is featured but the camera never slows down or lingers on a shot long enough to simply drink in the visuals. Then again, the standard definition video on this DVD doesn't lend itself to finer details in its broad vistas. Still, the picture is clean and colors are pleasingly bold. The 5.1 surround sound is well used with clear narration from the center speaker while the subwoofer gets almost constant attention without overdoing it to underscore the powerful forces of the earth.
The supplemental material on the disc consists of two episodes of Solving History with Olly Steeds. Journalist and explorer Steeds puts himself in peril to investigate history's mysteries. The host is a little overdramatic at times, playing up the risky situations he's in, but it works to create some tension for the show and it doesn't look like he's faking it. The "Atlantis" episode starts with Steeds scuba diving in the Mediterranean above a location rumored to be ruins of the fabled city. Greek government officials keep a close watch on him and threaten to shut down filming if he discovers anything of historical worth. In the "Devil's Island" installment, Steeds attempts various methods of escape from the historical penal colonies of French Guiana. Neither trekking through hundreds of miles of jungle nor floating countless miles in shark-infested waters are a plausible route to freedom.
In the course of his stunts, Steeds reveals a considerable amount of research into the histories of each place. If the amusement of the host's uncomfortable plights isn't enough, the quick history lessons of these famous places make for satisfying viewing experiences. The two bonus episodes, each approximately 42 minutes, are presented in a good stereo mix. The picture is quite good for a reality show.
Atlas: Uncovering Earth feels a little like a Discovery Channel sampler. The main program and bonus episodes are not essential nature shows but they are solidly produced installments packed with information for their specific subjects.
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