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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Nature's Most Amazing Events (Blu-ray)
Nature's Most Amazing Events (Blu-ray)
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // June 2, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted June 8, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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When it comes to writing and presenting information about our planet and the creatures that inhabit it, there's nobody that comes even close to David Attenborough in talent. His own filmography includes the entire Life series, and although that wrapped up in 2008 he still provides the best commentary you're likely to hear on television, as evidenced by his work on the very well known Planet Earth series. Nobody can blame the man for not having any passion for his work, as he's providing his expertise once again for Nature's Most Amazing Events.

One thing that usually varies wildly from one documentary series to the next is the presentation, but Nature's Most Amazing Events knows that if it isn't broke, you shouldn't go out of your way to try and fix it. It adapts most of the same methods of storytelling as Planet Earth, utilizing elapsed-time photography as well as impressively steady aerial shots. One might be quick to conclude that these methods could cheapen the presentation of a documentary, sacrificing useful information for breathtaking imagery of the planet in HD. That's not the case here however, as this series specifically focuses on yearly climate changes in certain parts of the world and how it affects the animals that inhabit these areas. In order to convey just how drastic a change the climate can impose on a particular landscape, the aerial shots are mixed with elapsed-time photography to bring the point home. You'll see barren icy wastelands transform into a grassy water world, and vice versa. Animals that dominate their terrain may feed on anything that moves indiscriminately, but will also ironically find Mother Nature to be just as unforgiving once certain events are set in motion.

Episode 1 - The Great Melt - Polar bears may rule the land when it's blanketed in ice and snow, but the annual thaw forces them to practically starve to death. Their food is able to flee danger with much greater efficiency, and this causes the polar bears to float out to sea on an iceberg, hoping they'll find food wherever they land. The puffy and pudgy guillemot birds use the temporarily warmer climate to breed and teach their young how to fly, leaving those unfortunate enough to be slow learners easy food for the Arctic foxes that await below.

Episode 2 - The Great Salmon Run - This episode is a fine example of what the 'circle of life' is all about. The run of fish is an important event for many animals. The fish instinctively swim back to their birth place to spawn and die, but the journey isn't easy. The streams they travel can become too shallow if there isn't enough rain at any given time, leaving the fish to be an easy meal for any birds or wandering bears looking to feed themselves after hibernating for the winter. The fishes that make it to their destination ultimately die after accomplishing their task, but the decaying bodies help provide the Earth with some much needed nutrients for fertilization.

Episode 3 - The Great Migration - Hands down, a pride of lions proves to be the most ferocious contenders in the Serengeti plains. Their superior hunting skills keep them hidden from the sight of their prey until they're ready to pounce, but their advantage disappears once the dry season hits. The grass dies and leaves the lions out in the open. Unable to hide from their food, troubling times of starvation hit the pride. This becomes especially troubling for the little cubs that accompany them. Things don't get any easier when a volcano erupts, leaving a blanket of ash everywhere. Capturing this event on film is a big surprise, as this particular volcano hasn't erupted for decades.

Episode 4 - The Great Tide - The sardine run of South Africa is a little more straight to the point when examining its purpose, which is 'food'. This massive event acts as a virtual smorgasbord for birds and numerous water creatures, such as dolphins, sharks, and whales. The sardines preferring cold water are forced to stick near the shores of South Africa to stick with the cooler water they thrive in. Needless to say, 'thrive' is definitely an ironic term considering how much this helps decimate their numbers.

Episode 5 - The Great Flood - The Kalahari can be the giver of life, or the bringer of death. When rain isn't literally flooding the land, numerous groups of animals are forced to migrate across hot and arid areas in order to stay alive by finding water. The most interesting aspect of this episode kicks in once water finally arrives from the Okavango River however, as animals are reluctant to give up their new watery stomping grounds and are more than willing to fight for it.

Episode 6 - The Great Feast - Seals, dolphins and whales all swim to the waters off the coast of Alaska for the yearly plankton bloom. It's a feast that's so irresistible to so many species, that they're willing to brave the inevitable life and death situations they'll encounter along the way. Seals will decrease in number throughout serious storms, as well as feeding frenzies from packs of killer whales. Shoals of herring will come to feed on the plankton, but they quickly become part of the feast itself for a large group of humpback whales that work together to make a meal out of them.

This documentary really made me realize how much mankind has become spoiled by its own innovations. Instead of trekking across difficult land on foot while hunting down prey, we can drive to the supermarket and buy our food. No longer do we have to worry about finding shelter, we pay for the privilege of being shielded from temperature changes that range from one extreme to the next. What Nature's Most Amazing Events points out so bluntly, is just how difficult life can be when you're forced to stop living so you can merely start surviving. This is all the documentary really needed to convey in order to become an effective presentation, but unfortunately takes a troubling turn near the end of each episode to throw out some eco-friendly warnings. The point could have been made clearly and tastefully, if only it presented the facts in a way that could let the viewer put two and two together for themselves. The imposition of just how bad we are for the environment made me feel like I was watching one of those 'adopt a child for a penny a day' commercials. I know this may not be a big deal to many of you, but it's pretty bothersome to me. There are certain companies in the industry that have been taking steps to push the green agenda to a very wide audience, and I can understand that to a certain extent. Nature's Most Amazing Events is a scientific study of the Earth and the life that's on it, and I don't feel as if it's the appropriate place for such a message to be pushed. Just lay out the facts and let me come to my own conclusions. Is that really too much to ask? Aren't people spoon fed information too much nowadays as it is?

Despite the virtual finger shaking I felt at the end of each entry in the series, the rest of the presentation was informational enough to make the overall experience one worth watching. There's a wealth of information within these six episodes, and nothing is ignored in order to show things in a 'nicer' light. Where Planet Earth obviously focused on the planet, Nature's Most Amazing Events focuses more on the animals than anything else. What this means is that there's some pretty gruesome animal feeding to be seen. In one episode you'll watch a pack of killer whales brutalize a seal before turning it into lunch. In another, you'll watch a polar bear rip apart a seal with its bare teeth. It's not a pretty sight, but nature generally doesn't tend to be pretty when it comes to the virtue of 'kill or be killed', or 'kill or wind up starving to death'. Nature can be a pretty complicated thing to understand at times, but that's really the gist of it when you strip everything down to the primal needs of feeding and procreating. All the information that's here for the taking is presented in a masterful ease that only Attenborough can provide, ensuring each episode moves along at a quick enough pace so you'll never find yourself bored.

If you're a fan of the Planet Earth series, you'll find Nature's Most Amazing Events pretty much follows the same exact model to a T. You'll even find brief filming diaries tacked on the end of each episode, something else Planet Earth fans should be familiar with. There's a fantastic amount of information within each episode, and I think you'll find yourself surprised at how much you can learn, especially considering how Attenborough presents all the information at a leisurely and elegant pace. True to the formula that made Planet Earth such a success, this series also delivers photography that's so beautiful it can only be bested by its predecessor. If you're not impressed enough by the information or photography this six part series provides, take into consideration it was all done within a pretty tight window of only 25 months. With a fairly nice MSRP on the price tag to boot, Nature's Most Amazing Events is a documentary that shouldn't be missed.


Video

This VC-1 encode (1.78:1) is presented in 1080i resolution. I can't help but scratch my head over this considering how the Planet Earth series was done at 1080p, but we'll get back to that. Much of the series shines well enough. Contrast levels are fantastic for the most part, colors penetrate in a photorealistic manner, and there's certainly no lack of detail to complain about. The most glaring issues this transfer exhibits, comes in the form of minor edge enhancement, banding, the most noticeable of all being compression blocking. Each episode has plenty of great visual moments, but there are plenty of problematic spots littered throughout. The 1080i resolution shouldn't scare anybody away, as you're not going to see interlacing lines throughout the entirety of any episode. The only time this ever really rears an ugly head is during scenes that have been time altered, specifically when things are slowed down. Overall, none of the issues I've presented really make this a bad transfer by any means, but I feel at this stage of the Blu-ray game, there certainly should have been better quality control.


Audio

Another cut in the quality department when compared to Planet Earth, Nature's Most Amazing Events only offers Dolby Digital 2.0. Much like my comments about the video, the audio here is certainly good enough, but it could have been much better. I have a much larger gripe with the audio than I did with the video. There at least should have been a surround track available, lossless or not. I'm seeing pretty photorealistic imagery on my television screen, but I can't make as much of a connection to the reality in front of my eyes when I can't hear the wilderness all around me. This is truly disappointing at this stage of the game. Overall the sound quality is sufficient enough, but it's hard not to pine for more.


Extras

There's absolutely nothing except for a high definition calibration program, and it's a pretty user friendly one at that. There's nothing else here to go on about though unfortunately. It's worth noting that the packaging isn't a standard keepcase though. The discs are instead placed inside a cardboard sleeve. This is usually a big no-no for me, but the Blu-ray format has a protective coating on it that makes the discs much more resistant to scuffs and scrapes. The review copy I had been sent appeared to be in mint condition, despite the fact the discs were slid halfway out of their sleeves.


Overall

I know the bottom line for a lot of you documentary fans out there, is that you want to know how this series compares to the likes of Planet Earth. To put it bluntly, Planet Earth is superior by far. To be fair though, Nature's Most Amazing Events isn't a piece that's meant to best or replicate what we've already seen. This series narrows its focus on annual climate changes and the truly fantastical events that take place because of them. The production value may be virtually identical to its predecessor, but the subject matter is entirely different. The only negative aspect this series pushes further than it needs to, is its message of warning about the big bad human race. I guess those involved in Nature's Most Amazing Events couldn't resist the temptation to remind us how all these astonishing events are in very serious danger of going bye-bye. Other than that, this is a fantastic series that any fan of Planet Earth should take the time to watch. The video quality may exhibit some compression issues, the audio may only be in stereo, and the extras are literally non-existent. For such a low MSRP though (I've seen this around for $26.99 in shops), it's really hard to complain about such things. I'm guessing documentary fans aren't really considering a release like this for the extra bells and whistles. This is a fine series when all is said and done, and it's undoubtedly a much better presentation than the standard definition DVD. For those that are always in search of something that's educational and masterfully put together, then this is an easy release to recommend.
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