Never let it be said that a film, television series, or book can't be both educational and entertaining. The team behind Walking with Dinosaurs and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts have already shown the two can coexist. With their latest entry into the Walking family, Walking with Cavemen, the team once again proves the educational videos can be fun for the whole family.
The first thing fans of the Walking titles will notice is that this series has a different narrator: Andrew Sachs. I'm not sure if it's the material or Sachs' accent, but Walking with Cavemen has the tone of a teacher discussing history with a class of children. This isn't a problem exactly, but I did notice that these shows do not offer the same power their predecessors commanded. Kenneth Branaugh's voice has solid presence, which gave the earlier shows a more dramatic feel. More to the point, his voice made me believe in what was presented, a feeling I don't get when listening to Sachs.
Walking with Cavemen takes you back to the Africa of 3.5 million years ago, home of Australopithicus Afarensis, the first primate to stand on two legs. The camera follows a tribe of primates as they struggle to survive the harsh, dry climate. Of course, like it's predecessors, the series moves on from there to focus on several different time periods. Walking with Cavemen is broken down into several segments for each 50-minute episode, all of which focus on one time period and species of our ancestors to show the possible evolution of man, from primate to Neanderthals to Homo Sapiens.
Within minutes of starting the first episode, I noticed that humans in "ape" costumes can't quite get the movements down. Sure, no one is entirely certain how these creatures moved (actually, no one truly knows they even existed), but during the action scenes, the actors' movements were stilted and unnatural. It wasn't until I accepted the human movement and costume limitations that the show really began to appeal to me.
Imagery aside, the show truly sparked my curiosity. Sure, it was fun to watch how many scientists speculate humans evolved, but even more important than the entertainment value are the thoughts this series provoked. It's not every day that I consider where I really came from, but days after watching this series, I'm still thinking on it. Although the hows and whys of what is presented here may or may not be accurate, it's interesting to consider just how an animal developed compassion, or love for a friend, or the need for standard, vocal communication skills.
It's my curiosity that makes want more out of this DVD. As I mention in the "Bonus Features" section below, the special features are adequate. However, I wanted to see more about how the images and scenes were derived. Just how much of the show can be proven, and how much is pure conjecture? What does science agree with, and what was added solely for entertainment value? Where does creationism fit into all of this?
Sure, it's unrealistic to expect all this to be answered on a DVD. But what my questions do prove is that the series has sparked my interest, making me want to learn more. In doing so, it's done its job. And it's done its job well.
Warner Brothers and the BBC present Walking with Cavemen in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen that really brings the cavemen to life. The image is very sharp with solid detail. Particularly good are the colors, which appear bright and vivid. The red and white sands stand out in the episodes pertaining to our more "recent" ancestors.
On the downside, there are a few instances of the dreaded halo effect, but nothing overbearing. Plus, certain dark scenes show some graininess. However, this noise sometimes (with the emphasis on sometimes) gives the show a more realistic feel. The series is filmed in the Discovery Channel on-location style, so the graininess lends itself to that realism since there wouldn't be any bright light illuminating the scene. However, more times than not this noise somewhat hampers the overall presentation.
Walking with Cavemen only offers 2.0 sound, which is too bad because several scenes could have benefited from a rear channel and bass workout. I would have liked to have been immersed in the hunt with the characters on screen, and only solid ambiance or a deeper lion's roar could put me there. As it is, the track is adequate: good, but not great. The grunts and screams are delivered with high clarity, and Alan Parker's music is very crisp.
THE BONUS FEATURES
I wish this disc offered a commentary, either by a scientist associated with the production, or the director. It's a very educational and thought provoking series, and I would've liked the opportunity to learn more. Unfortunately, it does'nt offer a commentary of any kind. However, the special features are worthy, they just don't quite deliver the educational value I wanted. Instead, they tend to focus on the production of the show rather than history.
Perhaps the best bonus features are the short production interviews and the on-location featurettes. All are straight forward and informative interviews that detail day-to-day activities as well as the preparation steps taken prior to shooting.
The storyboards of two scenes are offered here, but without a commentary they don't pack a punch. Animatics of these same scenes are also presented, but the mix of live action with unfinished CGI was surprisingly dull, perhaps because it is shown completely silent. Storyboard to Animatics to Film basically shows the previous featurettes with the final film clip, all on the screen together.
Also on tap are trailers for BBC America, "Walking with Dinosaurs," "Walking with Prehistoric Beasts," and "Blue Planet." You also get a photogallery, textual fact files on each species shown in the series (presented in a very small, hard to read font), and nine score selections.
Walking with Cavemen is both education and entertaining. Although based on conjecture, it's interesting to see how human life could have evolved. A commentary track is sorely missed, but it would be hard not to recommend this disc even with this oversight.