Lying on the equator are a series of islands, forged by deep sea volcanoes. On these islands live a series of unique and extraordinary creatures. These islands, while not especially hospitable, have seen some of the most bizarre and interesting animals ever to evolve. In fact, they are so instructive that they helped Charles Darwin develop his theory of Evolution. Most of these animals live on only one place on Earth: Galapagos.
In 2006, the BBC produced a three episode miniseries on the islands, narrated by actress Tilda Swinton. Like their groundbreaking Planet Earth series, they used high definition cameras to capture the breadth of the beauty and wonder on display. Also, like that acclaimed series, Galapagos does not shy away from showing the more brutal aspect of the animal kingdom. Life and death both get their due.
The first episode, "Born of Fire," introduces the islands, how they were formed, and shows some of the more volcanic locations. The marine iguana, the world's only iguana that feeds in the sea, is featured. Many of the other coastal creatures are shown, including crabs with a symbiotic relationship to the iguanas, and lizards who eat flies off of seals.
The second episode, "Islands that Changed the World," discusses how the wildlife on the islands inspired Charles Darwin to write On The Origin Of The Species. Of course, the famous Finches are featured, as well as the Giant Tortoises who live for over a hundred years. "Forces of Change" takes a look at how the ecology of the islands have changed, and the evolutionary track of many of the animals.
The three episodes are fairly self-contained, which often means that information from one is repeated in another. But it's presented differently each time, and many of the animals are so fascinating that it's nice to see them on screen again. Tilda Swinton gives a passable performance as the narrator. She's not terribly exciting, but she's never boring. But the star attractions are the myriad denizens of the islands. There are animals living in Galapagos that defy description, and they're here in all their glory. As far as nature documentaries go, Galapagos is one of the best.
The Blu-Ray Disc:
The 1.77:1 VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer on Galapagos is absolutely stunning. The islands and their inhabitants really come to life in a symphony of color and detail. Unlike Planet Earth, which literally went around the world for its imagery, Galapagos has a much more limited palette. Much of the landscape is bleak and black volcanic rock, but the image is no less impressive for it. You can make out every scale on the marine iguanas. When the crabs come to eat parasites and dead skin off them, you can actually see the minuscule objects the crabs are scooping up. Darwin's Finches are also well represented, with the layers of their plumage easily visible. Underwater shots look just as good as footage from on land. This is demo material, folks.
I currently have a test screening copy of the disc so far, and it only has a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. That kind of surprises me, as recent productions like this usually get 5.1 mixes just for broadcast. What we do have sounds okay, with Tilda Swinton's voice dominating the mix. There's less wildlife sounds than there were in Planet Earth, but what there is seems to be reproduced faithfully. Once I get the final release copy, I will update this review if there is a change in the audio options.
Other than a quick ad for Planet Earth before the main menu, there's nothing. Again, if the final release disc has features, I will update this review with them.
Galapagos is an in-depth look into one of the most fascinating parts of the planet. Tilda Swinton's narration offers up plenty of information while the visuals put dozens of unique animals on our screens. The video here is simply gorgeous, doing the islands justice. If you've wanted to pick up a nature documentary to really show off your home theater, but have been deterred by the high price of Planet Earth, then this is the perfect disc for you. Even if you have that previous set, you'll still want to pick this up, as it's of similarly high quality. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.