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The Grand Canyon
Scenic National Parks
Savant Blu-ray Review

The Grand Canyon
98 min.
Street Date September 16, 2008

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

DVD Savant reviewing a travelogue disc? What's going on? Well, the main reason is that Questar's Scenic National Parks: Grand Canyon disc is in Blu-ray, and I wanted to see how the Southwestern deserts would look in HD. The slightly smeary look of NTSC video has never been kind to landscapes, and was never good at recording the finer color details in red-on-red and brown-on-brown terrain. Secondly, with the gasoline crisis ongoing it occurred to me that a disc like this might be the closest many of us will get to the Grand Canyon for a while.

Grand Canyon is one of three National Parks discs being released this fall; the others are Yosemite and Yellowstone and can be purchased as a set.

The disc is a modernized version of the kind of souvenir movie or tape that one might buy at a gift shop in a National Park. I remember neighbors returning from Canada and forcing us to watch the bleary 8mm movies they bought and probably watched once. Things have certainly changed since then. Grand Canyon is as good as any cable show and a pleasant viewing experience with more to offer than mere postcard views of scenery.

The disc actually contains two shows. Grand Canyon gives us nicely-timed HD views of the spectacular canyons. Most casual stopover tourists take in only what's visible from the main lodge, and this show naturally goes much further. Besides venturing to other areas and down into the canyon, we get informative input speeches from park rangers about the history of the park and the prehistoric geology that formed it. The show doesn't pretend to be a full geology lesson and wisely gives us what we want to see: plenty of spectacular HD landscapes at a pace slow enough to take in the totality of each view.

A second "bonus program" is National Parks of the Southwest. It naturally has more variety, as it covers the areas known as Canyonlands and Arches (Utah), Saguaro (Arizona) and Death Valley (California). We see photographers lined up to catch the dawn light over the surreal vistas at the Arches monument, and a ranger explains the erosion process that created the hundreds of arch formations.  1

The Southwest show has more of a commercial slant, in that we go on a number of specific tours and visit private sites closely associated with the parks. Rafting guides take us into the Canyonlands and on or near the Saguaro Park we visit a reptile exhibit (close-ups of rattlesnakes in HD), a horse-riding outfit and a fancy dining oasis. A movie site near Tucson is an opportunity for guides to mention all the classic westerns that were filmed there. But scenic travelogue issues remain foremost.

Death Valley gets a thorough going-over in the last segment. The show tells the story of Death Valley Scotty, a conman who somehow inspired one of his victims to build a palatial villa in the heart of this scorching desert. Vintage film clips from the 1920s contrast with the beautiful lodge as it is today, part of the National Park.

Scenic National Parks: Grand Canyon looks splendid in Blu-ray. All the footage was taped in HD and the reproduction is good -- with the sound down, the disc makes excellent video wallpaper. The image quality is consistently good, good enough to give us a wide range of "texture impressions:" jagged rocks, scaly reptiles, dusty horses, spiny cactus. We get a feel for the contrast between the pebbly ground in the canyons, and the slick rock trails that make for excellent bicycle and motorcycle riding.

Editing and other technical specs are fine. Thanks to all those travel channels on cable TV, the Travelogue format has evolved into a respectable form. The shows are entirely casual and tourist-friendly; no mention is made of the budgetary problems of the National Parks or the politics of opening up these public sanctuaries to mining and logging exploitation for private profit.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Scenic National Parks: Grand Canyon rates:
Shows: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent 5.1 surround
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 14, 2008


1. I didn't catch any specific mention of the Wall Arch, which collapsed just last week of natural causes. See, this is a very topical disc.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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