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I am the father of two boys who have found all manner of creepy crawlies on our large property which backs to a protected greenspace with a stream. When the boys were much younger, and not quite so aware of how ballistic their mother could get when presented with unexpected items, we had several "look what I found" moments involving snakes, slugs, spiders and frogs, as well as a whole host of other creatures that really should have stayed outside. For those of you who might want a slightly more vicarious experience, this fun little compilation of three 25 minute episodes from the Smithsonian Channel's Critter Quest! series offers fun to spare for the kids. The good news is host Peter Schriemer is both knowledgeable and personable enough to keep most adults reasonably entertained as well.
Schriemer delights in leading explorations of various "backyard" environments--whether that be the literal backyard behind a house, or a more generic backyard, like the wilds in and around Washington, D.C.--and then taking an up close and personal look at the various insects and animals he encounters. This can include everything from the relatively small, like jumping spiders whose leaping abilities might put some Olympic pole vaulters to shame, to larger creatures like owls, whose use of echolocation allows them to feed off various lower life forms. Schriemer is just enough of a goofball to keep the kids interested, even as he imparts valuable information, and just enough of a science geek to keep that information salient and concise enough for the kids to understand.
While the strength of the series is in its personalization of the topics at hand through Schriemer's tactile handling of the subjects, there's an ease with which Schriemer imparts the information that keeps the show from being a dry recitation of facts about various species. The show also benefits from outstanding photography (albeit this DVD is sadly unenhanced for widescreen televisions). That propensity allows the viewer some really outstanding views of wildlife caught in their natural habitats, with Schriemer describing everything from various activities they engage in, to their life cycles, to the ecosystems in which they live.
Critter Quest! reminded me of a combination of the old Zaboomafoo series with (as strange as it sounds) Blue's Clues. Schriemer has the same goofy likability as that show's Kratt Brothers, with their same childlike sense of wonder as he talks about various creatures. His direct to the camera involvement to the audience of probably rapt children, encouraging them to do their own exploring, seemed redolent of Blue's various owners through the years.
This is a very fun, lesser known series on the Smithsonian Channel and its DVD division would probably do well to further promote it and offer either more of these compilations or a complete season set. Schriemer is fast, fun and funny, and for those of you who don't want your own "look what I found" moment, he's nicely ensconced on the other side of a television screen.
I just do not get these wonderfully filmed productions by Smithsonian, History Channel and A&E which their DVD divisions insist on releasing without being anamorphically enhanced. The letter- and pillar-boxed 1.78:1 image that is here is sharp and at times extremely well detailed, with excellent color, saturation and contrast. Some of the wildlife footage is as good as anything seen in the more well-known BBC Attenborough episodes.
I was really pleasantly surprised with this DVD's DD 5.1 sound mix. With so much of it taking place out in the while, there was actually some great use of surround channels for ambient environmental noise. There's not an overpowering use of low frequencies, but everything here is sharp and very clear, with all dialogue easy to hear.
None are offered.
Critter Quest! is a really fun little series with a very amiable host in Peter Schriemer. If you have little explorers of your own, they're sure to be entertained by this DVD. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet