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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Africa's Elephant Kingdom (Blu-ray)
Africa's Elephant Kingdom (Blu-ray)
Genius Products // Unrated // April 7, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $21.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted March 24, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
I have to wonder whose "brilliant" marketing idea it was to release a slew of Discovery Channel documentaries as standalone Blu-ray titles, especially when, as in this case, they clock in at less than 40 minutes (!), contain no extras, and are in a full frame, 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This doesn't scream "must buy BD" material to me at least, but perhaps your mileage will vary.

Africa's Elephant Kingdom does do an acceptably visceral job of recreating the life cycle of an elephant. Told in a somewhat pretentious first person mode (which is dropped part way through, then picked up again at the end) in stentorian tones by Avery Brooks, the documentary attempts to show what life is like for this amazing species. While the opening establishing shots are an enticing tease, with beautiful aerial footage of mountains, lushly forested regions, and of course the arid plains, the bulk of the documentary then settles down to a ground-eye view of the huge trunked beasts making their daily rounds.

There are some cute shots of newborns learning to walk as their mothers take them into swamps for the first time, and, as a flip side to the cuteness, some sadder shots of young elephants unable to survive the drought season. Typical shots of young bulls testing their fighting skills are interwoven with more idyllic family-life moments as "clans" of elephants herd together for safety and, one guesses anyway, companionship.

There are at least one or two standout moments in what is a visually interesting but overall pretty pedestrian piece for Discovery. The best of these is a breathtaking moment of a charging cow, aiming directly for the camera, which will have you ducking out of the way, especially if you have your 5.1 system turned up to 11. If the entire documentary had featured more of this kind of exciting sequence, it might have seemed more of a unique viewing experience, rather than a sort of warmed over Disney "Real Life Adventure," albeit in HD.

It seems to me Discovery really missed the boat with this idea. These documentaries would have been better served by being presented in tandem, at least two together, but considering a BD's storage capacity, probably even more. To present these as standalone items, especially with no extra features, even at a "bargain" price, is a shame.

The Blu-ray

Video:
Africa's Element Kingdom, despite its 1.33:1 aspect ratio, sports a reasonably sharp and precise image in this AVC encode transfer. Colors are good and well saturated, and detail is above average. I was surprised to see some line shimmer on one elephant's weathered face, but that was the only bad artifact I noticed. This is an OK BD, but for my money, "OK" doesn't cut it.

Sound:
The DD 5.1 is considerably more effective than the overall image, with some good immersive sound effects and, as in the charge episode described above, some outstanding LFE. Separation in the environmental soundtrack is good, with Brooks' booming voice always up front. The evocative, percussion laden soundtrack fills the soundscape nicely, without ever being overwhelming. English subtitles are available.

Extras:
None are offered, which, considering the main feature's paltry 39 minute running length, is inexcusable.

Final Thoughts:
Discovery had better go back to the drawing board with this series and realize that BD buyers want more bang for their buck. What's here is fine, if unexceptional, and will probably delight younger kids for a little over a half hour. Rent it.

____________________________________________
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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