The World's Biggest And Baddest Bugs is an hour and a half long special that's been shown periodically on the Animal Planet cable channel. It was produced by Natural History New Zealand, where it parts of it were filmed, and has now arrived on Blu-ray for all you bug fanatics. But is this really something you'll want to watch over and over again?
The documentary features noted entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste (he'll be familiar to regular Animal Planet viewers as the hose of Buggin' With Ruud), who acts as both host and narrator on our journey through the wilds of the world as we uncover some of the largest insects to ever skitter across the earth. We start with some massive cockroaches that live underground in Australia and only really ever come out after rainfall, otherwise their shells will dry out thanks to the intense heat of the desert. From there we move on to check out some large dragon flies before being schooled on the different kinds of praying mantis' that live around the world and real life killer bees. Ruud also talks to us about big creepy spiders and scorpions and some pretty huge beetles and as we're taught about what makes these creatures interesting and unique we're treated to some excellent footage of the bugs running around their various environments doing their thing.
In between each 'bug specific' section, however, Ruud explains intricacies of their biology and evolution. For example, when discussing how dragon flies have evolved over centuries, he makes a point of explaining that changes in the earth's oxygen supply have mandated that these once gigantic flying insects that had wing spans of up to two feet across shrink in size. To hammer the point home, we see footage of Ruud on an exercise bike, first doing fine with an oxygen mask on and getting increasingly tired as his oxygen supply thins out. While this is all well and good and perfectly educational, footage of Ruud on an exercise bike isn't nearly as interesting or awe-inspiring as close ups of a praying mantis chowing down on some unlucky bug it's captured for lunch.
In Ruud's defense, the man absolutely knows what he's talking about when it comes to bugs and he's got a mildly infectious enthusiasm for the various creepy crawlers he lectures us on - it's just that we don't want to watch him. He's not nearly as interesting as the bugs that should make up more of the feature. Younger viewers might appreciate Ruud's explanations more than adults, who probably already know about oxygen and understand the basic evolutionary concepts that Ruud explains here, but there are times where more educated viewers might find themselves fast-forwarding through his solo segments to get to the good stuff.
The insect footage here is excellent, there's no doubt about that. You'll marvel at some of the close ups that show a fairly remarkable level of detail and let you get closer to many of these critters than you'd probably ever want to get in real life. Close up shots of giant spiders and massive beetles are very impressive and even a little frightening (particularly if you're even mildly scared of bugs!) and it's hard not to get completely engrossed in the insect footage that Animal Planet has included here. It's really good stuff and it serves to remind us just how bizarre the insect world really is. If you don't mind the Ruud footage, you'll probably really enjoy this one.
The World's Biggest And Baddest Bugs is presented in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen AVC encoded 1080p transfer on a 25GB Blu-ray disc and generally it looks pretty nice. There are some shots where Ruud's complexion looks really washed out, but this appears to have more to do with the lighting used in these shots rather than any sort of encoding problem. There aren't any mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues to spot nor is there any print damage. Detail looks pretty nice in the close up shots of the bugs captured outdoors, though the indoor footage of Ruud doing his thing isn't nearly as impressive and these bits tend to look a bit on the flat side. That said, the real reason you'll want to watch this is for the bug footage, right? And the bug footage looks pretty good.
English language audio options are provided in standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, there's no HD audio track included on this release. Closed captions are provided in English only, there are no other alternate language dubs or subtitles supplied. As far as the 5.1 track goes, surround use is minimal, and it's pretty much relegated to the score which periodically pops up in the rear channels. Bass response is minimal, though your subwoofer will spring to life now and again, and really, aside from the way that the score is spread out, there's little difference between the 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced - there are no obvious problems with the audio here at all, it's just not particularly remarkable in any way.
Aside from a static menu, this Blu-ray release is completely barebones - not a single supplement in sight! It would have been nice to see some bonus footage or 'bug profiles' or... something. Anything! Even promo spots for other Animal Planet releases, but nope, there's nothing here.
While the transfer is nice, the audio is pretty average and the disc is completely barebones. The World's Biggest And Baddest Bugs is worth watching once, but isn't likely something that you're going to go back to time and time again, even if the price point is nice on this one. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.