A few years back, I was fortunate enough to take a magical trip to Europe, catching amazing sights along the way as I jumped from country to country in an effort to inhale as much foreign essence as humanly possible. Of course, the reality of the trip was more of a mad dash of planes and missed trains, accommodations that resembled snuff film sets, and tense interaction with a small percentage of rude locals (sorry, France!). The "Visions of Europe" series doesn't replace the actual experience of traveling overseas, but it provides the next best arrangement: a multi-hour hypnotic odyssey of flight, as an airborne camera soars above the most iconic and dazzling cities of the world, presenting a look at architecture and nature's splendor from a uniquely heavenly perspective.
It sure beats a hostel, a limited travel budget, and the French.
Created for public television, "Visions of Europe" brings a varied collection of countries to your doorstep. Essentially a series of helicopter flybys, the camera glides past nature's splendor and man's determination, showcasing the peaceful marriage of countryside and community, which makes for gorgeous scenery as the camera travels to more rural areas. Each episode is accompanied by a soothing, spa treatment-like score and light narration (some using area-specific accents to help encourage the authenticity of the piece). It's calm, serene imagery that promotes relaxation and education, with the footage making time to point out important regional landmarks and supply historical data, providing the viewer with a rich comprehension of the footage on display. Not only is there enviable Euro visuals to salivate over, but you might learn a thing or two as well. Ahh, PBS, you speak my language.
There's a wonderful EPCOT feel to the series, lifting the viewer off the ground in a joyful manner, executed with grace by the filmmaking teams, who know exactly what the target demo is looking for. Additionally, for those who enjoy the bustling details of a miniaturized world, "Visions of Europe" supplies an eye-popping display of tiny people going about their tiny business, the show renders planetary life as a colossal Department 56 catalog. Episodes produced more recently include conventional, earthbound photographic sojourns to convey a sense of cultural life, but the highlights of the series are the floating sky views, permitting a respectful breath of time to enjoy the wonders of European development and preservation.
"The Great Cities of Europe" (56:33)
"Austria" (55:24) - Bonus Footage (18:55)
"Bavaria" (55:35) - Bonus Footage (21:52)
"Along the Rhine" (58:51) - Bonus Footage (20:31)
"Northern Style" (56:27) - Bonus Footage (20:07)
"Southern Style" (55:34) - Bonus Footage (25:40)
"Sicily" (55:17) - Bonus Footage (23:24)
"The Great Cities: Rome, Florence, and Naples" (57:40)
"Greece" (55:46) - Bonus Footage (31:09)
"Off the Beaten Path" (56:01) - Bonus Footage (19:28)
"Provence" (56:11) - Bonus Footage (22:51)
"The Riviera" (56:31) - Bonus Footage (23:53)
All episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), and believe me, there's going to be some disappointment that this box set isn't available on Blu-ray. Taken from a sketchy video source and refused a sprucing up for DVD consumption, the episodes appear overly contrasted and low-res for such a scenic experience. Countryside detail is still available for scrutiny, but needed polish and DVD optimization is missing, knocking the wind out of some of the more extraordinary vistas.
A 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is offered. It's a very basic track, with the travel narration easily discernable, balanced well with the scoring selections. Filled with classic compositions, the music is the highlight here, taking over with a nice frontal force when the show stops to enjoy the splendor.
"Austria" and "The Great Cities of Europe" feature English subtitles.
Cheaper than airfare and ideal for the homebody, the "Visions of Europe" series presents geographic awe in ready-made portions, perfectly measured and captured by an inquisitive camera. It's amusing, breathtaking, and educational. And the best part of the deal? You don't actually have to go to France.
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