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, Earth: The Biography and Nature's Most Amazing Events are quite mesmerizing. So too is their latest effort, Wild Pacific (originally release in the UK as South Pacific - this is the title that appears on screen), a six episode two-disc set comprised of individual though thematically linked segments exploring the various aspects of geography, culture and animal/plant life indigenous to the South Pacific that make it unique.
The six segments that make up the whole of Wild Pacific are:
Ocean Of Islands: This introductory episode educates us as to what makes this area of the world unique by talking about the massive distances between islands and the differences in their geography, cultures and ecosystems. We're also given a brief rundown on a few interesting species that live in the area and their mating and migratory habits.
Castaways: With the aforementioned massive distances between islands, it's a wonder that any plant or animal life inhabits parts of this area at all, yet many of the islands are home to robust and diverse species of insect, plant and animal life. This episode shows off a few of each and presents some pretty interesting theories as to how they all wound up there in the first place.
Endless Blue: This third chapter focuses on the underwater ecosystem of the South Pacific and the varied flourishing sea life that inhabits it. We learn not only about the habits of sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and many others but also about how they've evolved and learned to survive under some rather unusual conditions and circumstances.
Ocean Of Volcanoes: This episode explains how the islands of the South Pacific were all formed by various volcanic eruptions of varying degrees of magnitude, some of which still resonate today. We also learn how coral reefs were formed and about how and why various species call some of these almost inhospitable islands home.
Strange Islands: Over the centuries, the South Pacific islands have been home to many different peoples, tribes and species of animal life but not all of these have survived to the present day. This episode explains how and why this has happened by demonstrating how difficult and sometimes very dangerous a life surrounded by the world's largest ocean can prove to be.
Fragile Paradise: The final chapter examines the effects that expanding human populations have had on the area. From over fishing to pollution, there are aspects of human society that always put profit over preservation and these facets have taken their toll on the area. That said, strong preservationist and protectionist movements in the area have made progress in getting laws and boundaries enforced and the series ends on the optimistic note that it may not be too late to do some good in this regard.
Narrated with class and style by Benedict Cumberbatch, this is a fantastic way to loose yourself for six hours and maybe learn something at the same time. Like all of the BBC nature documentaries, the narration maintains a semi-scholarly tone throughout but it never gets too highbrow or so snooty that it becomes uninteresting. Rather, the narration simply compliments and provides a welcome and necessary context for the series of remarkable images that are obviously the main reason people are going to want to check this set out.
Many of those images are likely to stick with you for some time as well, be it a slow pan back from an island that slowly exposes hundreds of thousands of mating penguins lining its entirety or a close up shot of a native just before he jumps off of a structure made of wood with only a vine tied to his leg in hopes that, by getting closer to the ground, he'll help usher in a season's worth of fertile farming. Much of the underwater cinematography, be it focused on showing us what waves look like from under the water or showing off the natural sleekness of a shark, is also quite breathtaking. Shot by the some of the best cinematographers in the business, the six hours of content here is consistently impressive in its scope and its beauty and its hard to imagine documentary or nature video fans not being completely impressed with this material from start to finish.
Wild Pacific arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080i high definition VC-1 encoded transfer that is, unfortunately, noticeably 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 - unfortunately there are a few too may of these. Color reproduction is quite strong, with the blues of the ocean dominating almost every scene and rightfully so as they look quite beautiful. Some minor authoring quirks show up here and there - you'll notice some moderate compression artifacts if you look for them as well as a little bit of trailing now and again - and there are a few spots where edge enhancement is obvious. Detail varies from shot to shot, and while most of them look quite impressive others look like standard definition but banding is a constant nag. As such, it's hard to really give the image quality here really high marks. If it were consistently as good as its high points it'd get a perfect score but that isn't the case.
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. At the end of each segment, however, there is a ten minute behind the scenes segment that shows what the filmmakers had to go through to capture some of the remarkable imagery seen in the finished product. These are interesting and at times quite intense making them well worth sitting through..
While the transfer could have been better, there's still enough that impresses here on a visual level and the content itself is incredibly engrossing and at times very exciting. This is another in the ongoing line of excellent documentary/edutainment releases from the BBC that mixes incredible photography with classy and interesting narration with very impressive results and while the transfer's inconsistencies are going to irk videophiles, Wild Pacific still 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.