Wild China

Wild China on Blu-ray disc

The BBC has done it again. Wild China is a six part nature series that gives us a wonderful look at the natural beauty of China.

And there's plenty of natural beauty to be seen, not just the wild beasts on which they focus, but the landscapes themselves. China is, indeed, a very beautiful country.

The set is spread over two Blu-ray discs, with three episodes on each. The series is presented in 1080i, which sounds a bit chintzy compared with Blu-ray's normal 1080p offerings, and in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, which also sounds lame in a BD world of Dolby TrueHD, dts HD and LPCM. But overall, we don't think you'll notice any shortcomings on the discs, which look and sound great.

Of course we'll never know unless they release 1080p/HD audio versions...

The first episode is called “Heart of the Dragon,” and introduces us to the series, the country, and its billion-plus people (though we don't see a lot of Red army types about). We see mostly "peasants", the hard working people undoubtedly more concerned with feeding themselves and their families than with expanding Communist ideology.

"Heart" starts by showing us some incredible rice paddies they say are some of the oldest known man-made structures on Earth. It sets the tone, and we were hooked. It looks almost as if there are miles upon miles of these things, terraced along mountainsides, and they're not only functional, they're beautiful. Ah, but since they aren't natural, shouldn't the enviro-types be over there protesting?

My goodness, what a beautiful country!

The six episodes give us fairly in depth looks at four extremely different landscape areas, ignoring almost completely the peoples' slave status (which, to be fair, would be as inappropriate here as a rant against George W. Bush would be in a documentary about the effect of hurricanes on low lying areas. Oh, wait. That happens, doesn't it?).

Anyway, to say yet again, the animals and the landscapes (from the high himalayas and nearly as high deserts, to rain forests and mountains that look like the alien egg chamber from "Alien") are magnificent and complex, put into their overall perspective of their locale via what appear to be satellite-recorded maps.

We get to see animals that live nowhere else, architecture ancient and beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes, and people whose difficult lives are worn on their faces via years of weathering and struggle.

It's a remarkable and compelling series, another tour de force from the BBC.

The Blu-ray set is on two discs, both of which force you to skip through what seem like interminable previews and logos before you get to the meat (this is nothing new for the BBC, though). The picture, as mentioned, is presented only in 1080i, but the images are clean and clear and colorful - helping to bring the subject matter to wonderful life. While we consider ourselves video snobs, we had no trouble living with this video presentation.

Audio is merely Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, too, and while we're hooked on the "high res" audio formats you can bet with Blu-ray (there's that "snob" thing again!), in fact the audio quality here is just fine. There are no spaceships, explosions, car chases, and the like, so your home theater isn't going to get a huge workout. But that isn't necessary with every disc (we can't believe we said that!).

The Blu-ray disc doesn't pile on a lot of extras, but you get a 27-minute behind-the-scenes featurette (“Hunting Dragons”) It’s a pretty interesting peek at the making of the series, giving some insight into how difficult it is to shoot such scenes as Wild China contains. There are also traditional Mandarin subtitles.

Wild China, from BBC Home Entertainment

Natures Most Amazing Events on Blu-ray Disc

It looks and feels a lot like the BBC's stunning Planet Earth series, but this six part BBC series confines its look at the world to six particular “events” from around the world.

That doesn't make it any less interesting or compelling, though. In fact, this David Attenborough-hosted “event” is a fascinating look at some remarkable natural happenings and how they affect the wildlife that depends on them for their survival.

Where Planet Earth gave us the “Big Picture”, Nature's Most Amazing Events delves deeper, with more intimate looks at how major events affect the most minor participants. And it does so via the same kind of stunning high definition photography we've come to expect in recent years from the BBC.

And we're happy to say that the two disc set gives us straightforward looks at these events without any beating us over the head with climate change crap. Instead, we get to look at nature almost as if Mankind weren't there at all.

As with Planet Earth, each of the six episodes ends with a short “making of” documentary that show us just how hard it was – and how dedicated the photographers had to be – to shoot these remarkable images.

The six Amazing Events are:
The Great Melt – which follows polar bears as they follow the receding ice to find food for their families
The Great Salmon Run – which looks at grizzly bears in British Columbia as they feast on the salmon heading up river to spawn.
The Great Migration – in which the yearly rains on Africa's Serengeti bring huge numbers of beasts to feast
The Great Tide – sardines flood South Africa's coast, setting off a gigantic feeding frenzy the likes of which haven't been seen outside of an Olive Garden restaurant
The Great Flood – in which thousands of critters make a pilgrimage to the yearly flood in Botswana's Okavango delta
The Great Feast – off the coastal waters of Alaska and British Columbia, the annual plankton harvest works its way up the food chain right to the humpback whales it attacts from their winter homes in the Pacific ocean near Hawaii

If you wonder why, since each episode is a “great”something, the series isn't called “Nature's Greatest Events” you aren't alone. We also wondered that.

Anyway, each episode is fascinating and well worth a view – making this a nice companion series to Planet Earth, Wild China, and the like.

The series comes on two Blu-ray discs, shot in 1080i widescreen and the picture is magnificent, just as you'd expect. Colors are rich and deep and the detail is first rate.

Audio is presented only in Dolby Digital stereo so the only surround you'll get is the kind of fudged surround many audio processors  can give you. But the sound quality itself is very good.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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