"Galapagos is unlike any other place on earth".
It's hard to imagine a truer statement, for the land itself and for this BBC documentary. Galapagos, in a nutshell, is unbelievably phenomenal. More epic than some period blockbusters and just as informative as a high-quality educational documentary, this exceptionally radiant slice of natural wonder leaves no interest untapped. Prepare to run the gauntlet of cinematic wonder, because Galapagos packs a harder visual and conceptual punch than many other pieces on film – period.
West of Ecuador, The Galapagos islands ensnare most of their mainstream attention from their prolific reptilian wildlife and the renowned research of Charles Darwin. As obvious from Darwin's work, there's a healthy cornucopia of diverse life forms scurrying and swimming amidst this rich haven. Galapagos makes certain to give each of these organisms their share of the limelight, ranging from the typical reptiles and birds of legend to the current-bathed sharks and rays delving underneath the robust azure surface.
Galapagos launches as a systematic journey determined to open each and every door of this ecosystem to our welcome eyes. Some documentaries focused on economically sound countries describe the sociological dynamics, cash crops, and cultural divides amidst their enlightening material. Galapagos shares a similar formula, but instead stringently focuses on the outlandishly fascinating wildlife population and its cyclical effects on the holistic environment. Separated into three parts, each with their own themes that essentially equate to the introduction, development, and overall impact and fruition of these harsh conditions, this program segments quite well over its 150 minute time with the viewer. Whether in portions or in one bulk, Galapagos stands strong as quite an eye-opening bombshell.
Trivial statements about the gorgeousness of Galapagos seem meaningless, for the captured images on screen engulf the senses with ravishingly, and even aching, beauty. It's that kind of beauty that doesn't even seem fit for human eyes. Rich, fruitful vegetation and rapturous, serrated cliffs share the same beauty as the deep indigo and aqua shimmers of the oceanic depths. Galapagos isn't purely satisfied with just photographing this naturally lurid splendor; it takes this beauty and amplifies the intensity with zoomed, concentrated shots of utter jubilant wonder. Textures abound, there isn't a single scale, fin, or feather lacking acute detail. Yeah, it's that beautiful.
This isn't a documentary crafted for pure showcase of the island's splendid beauty, however. In fact, Galapagos might need some form of non-child safe emblem splattered on the cover, because this is a deeply aggressive exhibition. Without any points left to the imagination, natural selection wages its force in full culmination within this documentary. Leaving no bones, bits and pieces of the copious cycle of life unmarked, this fierce documentary keeps a stark balance between visual splendor, enlightening information, and emotively charged exposition. At times, amidst these brash conditions and grueling unavoidable drama, Galapagos can achieve mildly excessive levels of empathy. However, this flick understands that the viewer doesn't want to be thoroughly heart-wrenched; consequently, it manages to quickly balance the aggression with purposeful, clarifying optimism. Each of these organisms grows on you with lucid force, which is more than can be said for many dramatic films floating amidst our modern filmic sea. Instead of static props in nature's play, they become tangible characters within the fabric of survival's continual tale.
Yet, visual and informational qualities only establish the foundation and framework of this ample success. Within the narration and aural accompaniment is where the final bolts become tightened. BBC lassoed a palpable cherry-on-top for Galapagos in the form of Tilda Swinton's piercing, yet smoothly satisfying, voice talent. As a whole, Swinton represents some of the finest modern talent in cinema today. Paired with meticulously lyrical dialogue that'd be moderately gripping under any voice, Swinton lends a velvety, enthralling nature to the content. Almost mirrored as her partner in a duet, the gorgeous score supports the film masterfully with pacing and emotive strength.
Where does Galapagos go wrong? If this were an audio review, the sound you'd hear is deafening silence. This is a true vision in both visual photography and documentary entertainment. Just about everyone should find something to cherish in Galapagos, whether it be the visual enthusiasts gawking over the cinematography or the ecstatic nature hounds thriving to see the earth's ever-present brashness. To say the least, and it should hopefully be fairly clear-cut, Galapagos is a program that shouldn't be missed for any reason.
BBC Video presents Galapagos in a standard keepcase DVD with simple, alluring coverart and discart. Segmented into three portions, Born of Fire, Islands that Changed the World, and Forces of Change, this piece can be watched either in its entirety or segmented into the separate portions. No matter how good a documentary can be, the availability for segmentation is wonderful.
Brilliance flushes the screen with this immensely lurid anamorphic widescreen transfer. We're talking incredible here. Every microscopic detail and colored nuance ferociously jumps through the screen with vivacious bravado. Each close-up, whether it is reptilian, avian, or mammalian in nature, firmly stood unyielding on the screen. It's quite obvious this came rooted from high-definition sources surrounding the islands from all directions. Only rapid scenes involving movement leaned a minor step on the blurry side. Though standard definition, this disc is about as splendid visually as you can get. Galapagos sports an outstanding visual presentation.
Here's the only pseudo-weak point on the entire disc, and even this isn't very weak. Instead of a Dolby 5.1 track, all that's available is an incredibly strong Dolby 2.0 surround track. Even though the rear channels aren't utilized, Galapagos sounded terrific. Tilda Swinton's guiding voice remained potently crisp throughout, while every ounce of natural sounds rumbled, squawked, and hissed with rich detail. Furthermore, the score really kicked into gear and every prominent point, though still remained subdued enough as to not swallow Swinton's strong voice. A surround track would've been a most welcome edition; however, there's a world of terrific things within this aural presentation. Subtitles are available in English alone.
With such a visually stunning presentation spanning well over two-and-a-half hours, the sacrifice of extras seems well justified. Though it's certain that making this piece was an engrossing and likely problematic experience, Galapagos' splendor speaks for itself.
Galapagos left a very notable impression, both on the eyes and the head. It's rare that a documentary can pack this much punch, even though this theme seems to be weakening thanks to the widespread embrace of March of the Penguins, An Inconvenient Truth, and Planet Earth. Without doubt, though it didn't receive the same buzz as these aforementioned pieces, Galapagos stands strong as a formidable, wholly fantastic work. Usually, a documentary like this would normally receive nothing more than a very firm High Recommendation. However, the price point is so decent (< ~ $20) that Galapagos shifts into the higher ranks and wedges firmly into DVDTalk's Collector Series.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site