I never know whether to respond by feeling sorry for or wanting to silently snicker at people who spend Christmas Eve watching "The Yule Log," that televised spectacular of a fireplace crackling and sparking. Yes, I'm sure many people don't have fireplaces of their own to enjoy, or are in climates that don't really call for them, and yet the weirdly vicarious nature of this annual holiday video bazaar (bizarre?) has always struck me as a bit on the strange side. I have a little bit of the same feeling sometimes with Sunrise Earth, a visually spectacular series that I've enjoyed for years on HD Theater, and which is now getting a set of boutique releases built around various environment concepts. Sunrise Earth Seaside Collection offers four Blu-ray discs of calming natural environments where you can let the forces of nature quietly play out in the background and/or immerse yourselves in the wonder of nature via your HDTV and surround sound system. Yes, it's a little weird, but at least with Sunrise Earth, you're getting something visually and aurally stunning, as opposed to a standard def fireplace slowly burning through a stack of logs.
Not to state the obvious, but there is no plot in any of the true-life "adventure" nature specials. What you see is what you get, literally in this instance, as the HD cameras catch the slow play of light breaking over the Maine coast, or the dappled wonderment of the moon reflecting against the Pacific waves off the coast of Costa Rica. This is video minimalism at its best--the camera virtually never moves, you find yourself drawn into the environment, and then you get another awesome vista. It's surprisingly engaging, but even if you don't devote your full rapt attention to the proceedings, it makes for an unlikely bit of soothing multi-colored "noise" (as opposed to the white variety) that can play in the background as you go about your daily routine. There's a reason a lot of those white noise machines make wave sounds--there's simply something that instantly induces a Beta State from hearing the sweet wash of water.
This Blu-ray set comes with four discs, each with two episodes:
Disc A contains "Island First Light," set on Maine's lovely pink granite Cadillac Mountain, the first point in the continental United States that light hits each morning. Next up is "The Great Barrier Reef," my personal favorite in this set due to its stunning underwater photography and the fact that the camera, at least in the underwater segments, moves and tracks through various vistas, giving a bit of visual variety to the proceedings.
Disc B offers "Society Island Sunrise," set in French Polynesia, containing some astoundingly vivid shots of rainbows. This also is the only episode that has a visual mar--on a couple of held shots there are either hairs or lines of dirt on the camera. "Sunrise Seal Colony" is up next, coming ashore to soak up the sunshine in California's Port Reyes National Park.
Disc C starts with "Meditteranean Port," one of the more unusual episodes in that it features mostly humans and their activities in a 2200 year old Turkey seaport. Next is "Ninagiak Island," part of Alaska's Katmai National park, in an episode full of teeming birdlife set among swirling clouds.
Disc D begins with "Playa Grande Moonset," a nice change of pace as it starts in the dead of night with a full moon setting as the sun rises. Last in the set is "Argentinian Seal Pups," a South American counterpart to the California seal episode, but featuring relative small fry this time around.
While there's an obvious sameness to a lot of these episodes, there's also a suprising variety to both the ecologies portrayed as well as the various creepy crawlies and bird and fishlife that inhabit these various worlds. The photography is uniformly splendid, if intentionally mostly static. Each episode contains brief captions giving factoids about the various environments and the life within them, helping to make things at least minimally educational as well as visually and aurally engaging.
Sunrise Earth Seaside Collection arrives in a 1080p VC-1 1.78:1 transfer that is for the most part glorious. Aside from the one unfortunate mar mentioned above these are beautifully rich and solidly detailed transfers. You will notice quite a bit of grain in both the "Ninagiak Island" episode, which plays out largely against a cloudscape, as well as the "Playa Grande" episode, which starts in the dead of night. The grain is completely natural looking and does tend to fade into the background in both of these episodes in their lighter moments, as well as in all the others which have a lighter palette to begin with. Colors are excellent, with deep saturation, especially in the glorious "Barrier Reef" episode.
These Blu-rays offer both a DD 5.1 and 2.0 mix. The 5.1 mix, as might be expected, is radically more immersive and also is mixed higher than the 2.0, which I found a bit strange. There is an envelloping soundscape of water in all of these episodes, which tends to make the occasional bird cry or seal bark all the more directional when they finally occur. I recommend sticking with the 5.1 mix on this.
None are offered.
If you need a video tranquilizer as you watch your blood pressure rise in inverse proportion to your 401(K) holdings, or in direct proportion to added holiday stress, Sunrise Earth Seaside Collection may be just the ticket. Full of brilliant imagery, and with a soothing soundtrack, these will help you to breathe deeply and appreciate this incredible planet we inhabit. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet