You've got to hand it to the fine men and women at the BBC - they know how to put together a mean nature documentary. Planet Earth remains the crown jewel but even more recent efforts such as Galapagos and Earth: The Biography are quite mesmerizing. So too is their latest effort, Nature's Most Amazing Events, a sensationally titled two disc set comprised of six individual though thematically linked segments exploring the correlation between nature and the evolution of the planet.
The six segments that make up the whole of Nature's Most Amazing Events are:
The Great Melt: The focus of this first chapter is on the effects of global warming on the arctic region. We see various animals, including polar bears, seals, narwhals and various birds, in their natural habitat doing their thing and we also get a lot of aerial photography exploring and demonstrating some of the effects and what they've caused.
The Great Salmon Run: Set in the river's of Alaska, this fascinating second chapter explores the co-relation between the annual salmon spawning that takes place in the area and the rest of the area's inhabitants, with a focus on the bears who depend on these salmon for food. We also learn how man's interference has had some unexpected results. There's some absolutely stunning shots of the rivers and the massive bears in this chapter that make it a stand out.
The Great Migration: In this third chapter we head to the deserts of Africa to follow a group of lions as they make their way across the Serengeti Desert to follow a herd of zebra. What's interesting about this segment, aside from the scenery and the amazing photography documenting the greatest of felines is how the lions work out their plan of attack on the various critters they deem fit for dinner. Interesting stuff.
The Great Tide: Moving to the oceans of South Africa for our forth chapter we take a look at the spawning and subsequent eating of a few different sea faring creatures, particularly some pilchards. The major food source for the birds in the area as well as for the dolphins that call these waters their home, their spawning is an important event and one upon which hinges much of the area's ecosystem. The underwater photography in this fourth episode is stunning and rivals the best of the Planet Earth underwater bits - some of this footage is almost unbelievable.
The Great Flood: For the fifth chapter we head to Botswana to follow various animals in the area as they adapt to a drastic change in their living conditions. There's some great footage of some rather majestic elephants here that will take your breath away along with some excellent shots of other local animals like hippos, buffalos and local insects like giant dragonflies.
The Great Feast: The final chapter in the series heads north to Canada where see natural selection in action as a variety of coastal creatures engage in the ongoing game of eat or be eaten. Dolphins, whales, fish, sea lions and various coastal birds all play a part in the ecology of the area and this last chapter does a great job of explaining how and why it all ties in together.
Those put off by footage of animals hunting and killing their prey may be put off by some of the grislier bits that are scattered throughout the six chapters - after all, it isn't pleasant watching a polar bear eat a cute, fuzzy seal. That said, you can't fault the filmmakers for showing it like it is and there's so much incredible footage here that it more than offsets some of the nastier bits and it never ever feels exploitative, cruel or unnecessary, rather, a document of the natural struggle that constantly occurs around the world.
Narrated with class and detail by David Attenborough, this is an interesting and informative series that delves deep enough into its subjects to make for interesting watching but doesn't go so far as to alienate those who don't necessarily know the in's and out's of environmental and life sciences. In short, it's effective in how it can appeal to the common man but highbrow enough to remain of interest to those with a broader knowledge of the topics at hand. There are spots where you may get a sense of déjà vu, feeling as if you've been here before and done this before, and the similarities to some of the BBC's other documentaries and some of those made by National Geographic are not imagined, but there's still enough meat on the bones of this material to make for great edutainment.
Of course, if the narrative content doesn't grab you hook, line and sinker, the visuals definitely will. For whatever reason, the BBC's team of cinematographer's and cameramen seem to be the best in the business when it comes to capturing absolutely stunning images of the world around us and it is here that Nature's Most Amazing Events really shines. Be it some wild time lapse photography of melting ice, a real time shot of a polar bear leaping across some water or shots of the earth taken from up in space, every shot counts and not a second is wasted. The animals, the plants and their natural surroundings all come to life in a way that is at times feels almost magical (for lack of a dopier term).
Nature's Most Amazing Events arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition VC-1 encoded transfer that is, unfortunately, just a little bit inconsistent. There are shots in this set that will blow you away with crystal clear clarity and a remarkable amount of fine detail and then there are shots that look soft a don't impress quite as much. Thankfully the majority of the material here looks fantastic, which makes the softer bits all the more noticeable even if they are the exception and not the rule. Some minor authoring quirks show up here and there - you'll notice some very slight compression artifacts if you look for them as well as a little bit of trailing now and again - but these are infrequent. The color reproduction is pretty much flawless, however, and the black levels are nice and strong. While this transfer isn't perfect, it is definitely a very good effort, if just a bit uneven.
The only audio option on this release is an 448 kbps English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that comes with subtitles available in English only. While a lossless surround track would certainly have been more than welcome, the quality of this stereo track is quite good. The ocean sounds, the animal noises, the score and of course David Attenborough's narration are all nice and clear and there are no problems whatsoever with any hiss, distortion, or level fluctuation. It would have been nice to hear all of this by way of an HD audio option, but that didn't happen.
The only extra included on this release is a calibration tool that allows you to set your colors and tweak your settings before starting the feature presentation. Menus and chapter stops are also included. The discs sent for review were test discs in standard jewel cases so its unknown if the final packaging will include anything nifty in the way of inserts or slipcases.
The transfer isn't quite perfect, the extras are almost nil, and the audio really should have been 'more' than just a stereo track but Nature's Most Amazing Events makes up for its technical shortcomings by way of some truly fascinating material. Worth seeing for the gorgeous cinematography alone, this is one that nature documentary fans will definitely appreciate and it comes recommended.
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.