A two-disc special edition DVD of a... dog show? I admit, that was my first thought about the 131st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show DVD. My curiosity got the best of me and I had to give it a spin. Don't tell my cats this... but it turned out to be a pretty fun experience.
Disc 1 presents the first day of of the two-day show, with four groups of dogs (working, terrier, toy, non-sporting) being shown. Each of the dogs in the groups had previously gone through a previous round of judging and was declared the best in its breed; now, the dogs go against the other breed champions in their "type" groups. The winner in each group then goes on to the final round, for "best of show." Disc 2 picks up with the second day of judging, with the remaining three groups (sporting, herding, and hounds) and the "best in show" competition.
The program is well explained, starting with a brief introduction from the television hosts that explains the overall setup of the dog show. As each dog is brought up, the overall announcer gives a brief overview of the breed. The television commentators also provide commentary that focuses on the characteristics of the breed as well as a few snippets of information about the particular dog being shown. Before each group, there's also a short montage of extra-show footage showing how the dogs of this type behave in the "real world."
One interesting point that's made is that seeing the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is useful for prospective dog owners. While all puppies are small and cute, this dog show allows viewers to see what the dogs will look like when fully grown. (Yikes! The Great Dane is the size of a horse!) The announcer makes a point of mentioning the dog's personality as well as physical characteristics, making the point that not all dogs are suited for all people. I was amused to hear one breed described as "manipulative" with "obedience training recommended."
There's a tremendous amount of variety here, from the 230-pound mastiff to the tiny toy dogs (who have to be lifted up to be set on a table in order for the judge to look at them without throwing his back out). One of the interesting things about seeing this program was seeing not just the dog breeds that I knew about already, but ones I never heard of, from all over the world. For instance, the Komondor is a walking mop, with naturally-forming dreadlocks of fur; the Basenji is called the "barkless" dog (but it still chirps and yodels); the Neapolitan is a massive and droopy dog made famous by being cast as Fang in the Harry Potter movies; the Brittany is the smallest of the "sporting" dogs and is now used as a service dog as well as sporting dog. There's something new to learn about the "classic" breeds as well: for instance, from the commentary, we learn a little bit about the history of dog breeds, discovering that the Mastiff, the Pointer, and the Rottweiler are among the oldest, "foundational" breeds. The Afghan Hound tops them all, though: we learn that it's been a recognizable breed for 4,000 years.
The program is actually fairly fast-paced, since there are different cuts within each round, and dogs progressing from round to round. It's surprisingly entertaining even for someone who isn't a big fan of dogs. The menus are nicely set up so that you can watch the entire program, or jump straight to the group that you're interested in watching. The second DVD starts off with a brief recap of the previous day's winners, but it's kept very short so there's no need to skip over it even if you're watching the whole program in one massive dog-viewing session.
The Westminster people sure know how to make a dog show fun, I have to say: there's a lot of drama and excitement in the way that the different rounds work, and the audience is encouraged to cheer and root for their favorite dog. For people who already own dogs, there's a fun element in rooting for the representative of the breed that your dog happens to look like. I admit that I definitely had some favorites when it came to the Best in Show round - but I'm not going to spoil any surprises by revealing who makes it to the finals or who ends up with the coveted Best in Show award.
Plus, the dogs look like they're having a good time!
There's a total of about four hours of footage here: two on each DVD.
The image appears in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It looks clean and clear, with good colors. There's quite a lot of edge enhancement, but it doesn't get in the way too much.
The sound is clear and natural: both the commentators and the announcer come across very well.
In addition to the groups that are shown in the main program, the DVD also includes the breed judging for selected breeds. (With 2500 dogs entered in the event from 165 different breeds, it'd be impossible to include footage of them all!) On Disc 1, the bonus breed footage is for the Akita, the Dandi Dinmont, the Toy Poodle, and the Standard Poodle; on Disc 2 these are for the English Springer Spaniel, the PBGV, and the Bouvier des Flandres. These are short montage-style segments, from about four to eight minutes in length, set to music, without commentary. It's interesting to see, but not as much as the full coverage with commentary.
On each disc we also get brief interviews with the winners of each group (actually, with the owners and handlers, not the winners themselves, who just sat around looking mellow.)
On Disc 1, there's also a one-minute behind-the-scenes look at the "benched" dogs: one of the features of the Westminster Dog Show is that visitors to the show can go "backstage" and not only see, but even pet and interact with the dogs. Another minute-long featurette takes a look at the grooming of one of the poodles (six or seven hours of grooming! hairspray! Yikes!)
Disc 2 rounds out the special features with several short pieces. The "Angel on a Leash Feature and Award" is an interesting four-minute piece explaining the Westminster Kennel Club's therapy dog program. The "Vivi" featurette covers the tragic story of a whippet lost at the airport. Finally, a brief segment covers the "Junior Showmanship" award, in which young handlers are judged on how well they can show their dogs.
Not only was the 131st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show program more entertaining than I expected (I'm a cat person, myself), I found it surprisingly informative as well. With excellent, well-explained coverage of the show and ample bonus features, this DVD gets a solid "recommended" rating: it'll be of interest not just to fans of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in particular, but also to dog lovers in general and anyone looking for something different and interesting.