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Case Number 17079

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Wild Pacific

BBC Video // 2009 // 353 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 20th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Adam Arseneau needs some Dramamine.

The Charge

An ocean of extraordinary discoveries.

Opening Statement

From the BBC team that brought the world Planet Earth comes a new six-part feature, Wild Pacific, a journey through the vast Pacific Ocean and the South Pacific, both above and below water. Co-produced by the Discovery Channel, it shows that the unimaginably sprawling and endless oceans reveal a beautiful, fragile world, captured in elegant detail.

Facts of the Case

The Pacific Ocean is large enough to fit all the landmasses in the world inside it, and still have room to spare. From space, it appears an empty mass of blue oceans, but its hundreds of islands and deep waters house some of the most vibrant and spectacular ecosystems on Earth—and the BBC is there to record it in all its glorious detail.

Narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement), Wild Pacific (originally titled South Pacific in the UK) features six episodes:

• "Oceans of Islands"
Life in the South Pacific looks idyllic, but life for its denizens is another matter entirely—massive tidal waves, tropical storms, and even blizzards.

• "Castaways"
It takes any species on average over sixty thousand years to migrate to Hawaii, an island hundreds of miles away from any other land masses. They often arrive on the backs of storms and cyclones, surviving incredible odds.

• "Endless Blue"
Animals need to go to extreme lengths to survive in their isolated environments in the South Pacific, travelling hundreds of miles just to feed, hopping from island to island.

• "Ocean of Volcanoes"
An underwater volcano gives birth to an island. The endless tracks of coral reefs and underwater caverns teem with life.

• "Strange Islands"
The islands in the South Pacific are filled with all manner of strange life. Long segregated from the mainland, they have developed into species unique in the world.

• "Fragile Paradise"
Though seemingly vast and impressive, the South Pacific is a fragile ecosystem, taxed heavily by fishing and human interference.

The Evidence

On the subject of outer space, Douglas Adams wrote, "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." In the same spirit of this humbling observation, Wild Pacific sets off into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the largest uninterrupted area of our planet Earth, and wows viewers with its vastness and massiveness. For thousands of miles in every direction, there are barely any land masses to be found, save for tiny outcroppings of tropical forest, rock, or volcanoes. Amazingly, life finds ways of clinging to these tiny pinpoints, against all odds, like barnacles on the side of ships.

Divided into six episodes, each segment of Wild Pacific examines a particular challenge or area of the ecosystem—the island distributions, underwater volcanoes, evolutionary curiosities, and so on. There is a lot of big open empty space in the Pacific, but also a lot of unique life both weird and wonderful, and the massive distribution and isolation of the islands from each other have created a challenge for life to survive in the paradise. Creatures need to survive the constant typhoons and limited food supplies, and have no way of moving off the island. Evolution has given way to some truly bizarre creatures seen nowhere else in the world: crabs the size of human babies that crack open coconuts with their massive claws, carnivorous caterpillars that camouflage as leaves and branches to snatch flies out of the air, flightless parrots that hop on the ground, kangaroos that dwell in trees, and on and on.

No less of a challenge is presented to the human inhabitants; take, for example, Anuta, an 820-yard island in the southeastern Solomon Islands that is the smallest inhabited island in the world. With over three hundred people living on its tiny shores, according to the documentary, it has a higher population density than Bangladesh. With limited natural resources, every man woman and child must work as a collective simply to survive. Wild Pacific is chockfull of examples of amazing evolution and ingenuity from animal and man alike, struggling to survive in a beautiful (but often inhospitable) environment—islanders fishing with spider webs, bungee divers leaping from crudely constructed wooden platforms, sharks travelling hundreds of miles to leap out of the water catching albatross chicks learning to fly, and too many other moments to mention.

Say what you want about the Beeb, but BBC Earth kicks out some seriously impressive nature documentaries. Wild Pacific is detailed, nuanced, and informative, balancing stunning cinematography and jaw-dropping footage with balanced, scholarly narration that actually takes its time to let audiences learn about the subjects depicted onscreen. The feature is a bit heavy handed in terms of its environmental impact closing feature, but this is to be expected and can be forgiven, and it does make a bit too much use of the slow-motion feature for my personal tastes, but these are hardly major flaws. It cannot be denied that Wild Pacific captures some stunning, if not downright groundbreaking, documentary footage in some of the most exotic and remote locations on Earth.

The quality of the cinematography is second-to-none, but the 1.78:1 DVD presentation doesn't always do the footage justice. Recorded in HD, some shots are crystal clear and sharp with impressive contrast, detail, and color saturation, while others seem noticeably dark and washed out in tone and detail, exhibiting excessive softness. For standard definition, this is a great-looking feature, but one truly yearns to see Wild Pacific in its full resolution. The audio comes in simple stereo, which is adequate for its task, capturing the ever-present roar and crescendo of the ocean, but a full surround presentation would have been perfect. The score is a particularly apropos melody of "Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, which is incredibly well-suited to the subject.

In terms of extras, Wild Pacific has six 10-minute "making of" featurettes tacked on to the end of each episode, going behind-the-scenes into the making of the individual episodes.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Blame it on repeated viewings of Planet Earth on Blu-Ray, but after getting a taste for how epic and impressive nature documentaries look in high definition, it's tough to acclimate back to standard DVD. No matter how good it looks—and this is a fine DVD—it just can't compare. Like a junkie yearning for a fix, I find it hard to settle for less than the best. There is a version of Wild Pacific available on Blu-Ray, so consumers need to make the choice best for them.

Closing Statement

A vast and sprawling subject matter too powerful and stunning to be captured entirely in a six-part documentary, Wild Pacific is a fine product, but feels lacking in the technical specs compared to its high-definition counterpart. BBC Earth makes some of the finest nature documentaries in the world, and Wild Pacific is no exception to this rule.

The Verdict

A definite must-see, unless you suffer from sea sickness.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 87
Extras: 35
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 353 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Video Diaries

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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