"The Big Blue" is billed as an engaging look at the world's largest animal, the Blue Whale. It's a well produced documentary, but ultimately doesn't spend ample time with its main subject, the whales themselves.
The structure and presentation of the subject matter is very polished. The viewer is thrown into the world of the whale through the eyes of a researcher as he utilizes both sea and air methods of following these amazing creatures through the oceans off the coast of Australia. However, just as we are introduced to these creatures and some stunning footage shot high above the waters, the bombastic narrator pulls us on a diversion to the nearby coastline that ultimately eats up the majority of the nearly 45-minute runtime (NOTE: the box lists the runtime at 93 minutes, which accounts for the bonus documentary detailed in the extras section).
Smithsonian deserves a great deal of credit for the production of this program, as the footage is stunning. The viewer gets up-close and personal with some wildlife that shares the waters with our titular stars. The relationship between the birds featured as well as the sea lions with the whales is vaguely implied, but takes up so much of the runtime, that in the end, I can't say I learned much about Blue Whales. The footage of sea lions giving birth and the new generation of birds taking flight for the first time is all very fascinating, but should have been left for its own documentary.
The previously mentioned narrator does manage to spoil more than a few moments. His delivery comes across as self-promoting and the way he casually tells the audience that a young bird has just died, is quite callous. It's the one low point in terms of production values and unfortunately made the program's lack of focus on the advertised subject much more apparent.
The 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer is another frustrating, but predictable offering from Smithsonian. It is by far one of the most detailed, offerings I've seen thus far from the company, and it's a shame it's not optimized for modern televisions. Colors are rich and vibrant, and there is no sign of digital manipulation nor artifacting.
The 5.1 English Dolby Digital soundtrack was much more rich than expected. Narration is clear, but mixed a little too strong, especially given the less than stellar voice work. The surrounds pick up some of the natural soundscape, but spring forth with great energy when the score kicks in. An optional 2.0 mix is available as are English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The sole extra is quite substantial and ultimately a more rewarding viewing experience. "Footprints on the Water: The Nan Houser Story" is a 40-odd minute look at Nan Hauser, a very inspiring woman who is dedicated to the study and protection of whales and dolphins. It covers both some of her work studying as well as her efforts to set up an ocean preserve, larger in area than Europe.
In the end, Smithsonian leaves me scratching my head. The cover shows a Blue Whale and the back of the case bills this as a documentary about Blue Whales, but I learned more and saw more about sea lions and birds, instead. While learning is great, false advertising is not. Fortunately, the bonus documentary salvages this program as a forgettable affair. Rent It.