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|Home: BigScreen Journal - DVD Review: The Blue Planet: Seas of Life (5-disc Special Edition)|
The Blue Planet: Seas of Life (5-disc Special Edition)
BBC Video E4136 - Region 1
List Price: $59.98 (Check Price at Amazon.com)
Available on DVD 10/2/2007
Back in 2002, the BBC produced a great nature documentary series titled "The Blue Planet - Seas of Life" which aired in the United States on the Discovery Channel (if I recall correctly). It was a fascinating look into our oceans, and any fan of nature shows watched every episode because of its production quality and sheer breadth of coverage of the subject material. Spanning the globe's oceans, we get to see Blue Whales, coral reefs, and creatures rarely seen by humans.
The original four DVD series was released in 2002, and now they are following up that release with a 5-disc Special Edition which includes a bonus disc containing four additional shows. This release is no doubt as a result of their very successful "Planet Earth" series which debuted earlier in 2007 to great acclaim. That series was released not only on DVD, but also in high definition on HD DVD and Blu-ray disc. The "Blue Planet" series is only available on DVD as of this writing.
Screenshot from "Ocean World"
I was a little disappointed in the picture quality of many of the segments on these discs. MPEG artifacts abound in areas, appearing as sparkly distortions, especially on the edges of divers as they are interviewed above water. Banding is also evident in many of the underwater scenes, where gradients of overhead light appear as bands of color from light to dark instead of gradual color changes.
These flaws are much less noticeable on disc 5, probably as a result of being mastered using contemporary techniques. My Pioneer DVD player displayed a bitrate of around 7 Mbps on disc 5, as opposed to 5 Mbps on the other discs. It's possible that the other discs might have looked better had they been mastered at a higher bitrate, but that's just a guess.
The BBC did such an incredible job with the HD DVD release of "Planet Earth" that my expectations might be unfairly high. We are, after all, comparing a production that is at least 5 years old and on standard definition DVD with a brand new production shot in HD and released on HD DVD. While it may be a bit unfair, it's a result of the combined factor of 1) the BBC setting their own bar very high with the latter production, and 2) not releasing this set on HD DVD for us die-hard nature documentary fans.
If you watch this on a standard definition television smaller than 40" you probably won't notice the artifacts as much. Such are the limits of standard definition, and further justification for more productions to be released on HD and enjoyed with HD displays.
The soundtrack is two-channel Dolby Digital, which was par for the course back in 2002 for shows like this. As a result, one must temper their expectations after becoming spoiled by the great soundtrack present on the Planet Earth series on HD DVD. Once again, this is an unfair judgement, but a natural one given the timing of this release. However, unlike the flaws in the picture quality that are noticeable on any decent display, the soundtrack here is just fine as it is and does not distract from its core purpose of informing the viewer and filling in gaps in the narration with appropriate segues.
Since this is a DVD release of a series that I first saw on television, the additional features supplied serve to extend the enjoyment of the broadcasted content. The "making-of" features, the photo galleries, and especially, the bonus fifth disc are all very welcome value-added features.
This 5-disc set is a must-see for any nature documentary fan! Its $43 street price is very reasonable for what you get, but I can't help but think that an HD release has to be on the horizon. I don't know if this series will transfer well to HD, but I'll bet it can. For that reason alone, anyone that has an HD DVD or Blu-ray player may want to hold off and see if a release is forthcoming. Until then, this is the best we have available to us, and it's well worth a look!
Don't just take our word for it, check out these resources for more reviews of this title.
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