My four year-old daughter somehow became a huge fan of sharks and other undersea life in recent months (probably via The Little Mermaid)...so hey, I'm gonna keep that train rolling as long as I can. And it goes without saying that most kids and adults enjoy documentaries when they're done right, so it's no surprise that BBC's Shark Battlefield (2006) seemed like a safe bet for the family. This is apparently new to DVD (at least domestically) despite the eight-year gap and, like the simultaneous release of Perfect Shark, is riding the wave of Discovery's recently-ended Shark Week.
As for the program itself, it provides a nice look at the food chain in action around an unnamed, remote Pacific island. Using computer graphics, post-production effects and voice-over narration, the exploits of roughly a dozen or so species are shown struggling to survive in an environment where food is scarce...and it's first come, first served. Our "lead character" is a tiger shark, several months pregnant with 40 hungry pups inside her; she's gone more than a week without food and the kids are starving. A dead sea turtle floats several kilometers away, waiting to be devoured. Soon enough, it's a race for the meal between our single mother and a gang of smaller white-tip reef sharks, with each one using their powerful natural abilities to navigate the waters and sniff out the banquet. From there, the search for food continues: a hammerhead patrols the sandy sea floor in search of a delicious stingray. The white-tip gang uses their snouts to flush out smaller fish. Bird droppings fertilize the water where plankton grows to feed larger marine animals.
The "big picture" mentality of Shark Battlefield is appealing, as it shows us the close relationship between predators, prey, and how everything affects---and and is affected by---their immediate surroundings. Naturally, the story of our pregnant tiger shark gives viewers someone to root for, but this brisk 50-minute documentary doesn't just limit itself to one focal point. If there is one complaint I had with the show's format, it's the slightly overdone CGI, constant jump cuts, and non-stop transitions; these are meant to give Shark Battlefield's hunters a slick, omnipresent POV like Predator or The Terminator, but this gimmick grows old quickly. Still, this entertaining and informative documentary is worth a look on DVD...though, like Perfect Shark, there may not be quite enough here to make it worth buying.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not surprising for a BBC production of its era, the major flaw with this 1.78:1, 480p transfer is a lack of progressive flagging. Whether this was from an improper NTSC-PAL conversion or otherwise, it causes mild blurring during scenes of action and can be moderately distracting. Colors are also murky and dull, image detail is lacking and most of the production just has an "early digital video" look to it. I'll give Shark Battlefield and other like-minded documentaries a handicap, however: in most cases, I'd imagine there were few opportunities for re-shoots. So, despite the numerous source material flaws here, those familiar with films like this should be able to overlook most of them quite easily.
DISCLAIMER: This screen captures featured in this review have been resized / compressed and do not represent this DVD's 480p resolution.
The audio is presented in standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and gets the job done, as the music, narration, and undersea action come through clearly. There's some good channel separation, especially since most of the dramatic effects were added in post-production. Like the CGI effects, some of this sonic trickery is a little overdone at times, but this is more of a personal nitpick than an objective flaw. Optional English subtitles are also included, which is nice.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menus aren't exactly pretty or detailed, but there's not much material here so it's not surprising. Multiple chapter divisions are included but no sub-menus are present. This one-disc release is housed in an eco-friendly keepcase and includes a slick matching slipcover and a promotional insert. No bonus features either, unfortunately.
The CGI and other post-production elements are a little gaudy and overdone, but BBC's Shark Battlefield remains an effective, entertaining and informative documentary that the whole family can enjoy. Discovery's Shark Week may have already drawn to a close, but anyone with a soft spot for undersea action will find some enjoyment in productions like this. Like BBC's similar-themed Perfect Shark (released simultaneously on DVD last month), this brisk 50-minute documentary would still feel better suited as part of a boxed set or even as a bonus feature. Let's face it: not many people are willing to shell out $10 or more for only 50 minutes of material on DVD (especially considering the flawed A/V presentation and lack of bonus features), but Shark Battlefield is still definitely worth a weekend spin. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.