Wild China - Blu-Ray Movie Review
|N/A||20/11/2008||Village Roadshow||Bernard Hill|
|AVC MPEG-4||Dolby Digital 5.1 640kbps||E||Nature!|
Last year we were absolutely blown away with the release of Planet Earth on Blu-Ray. This year the BBC have focused on a much smaller part of the world - China. Needless to say the production values on this release are also through the roof with some of the most spectacular vision ever put to film - and in High Definition glory too!
|The Li River cormorant fishermen.|
With splendor, scale and romance, Wild China lifts the veil on the world's most enigmatic and magnificent country, delving into its vibrant habitats to reveal a land of unbelievable natural complexity. Journey across China from the glittering peaks of the Himalayas to the barren steppe, the sub-Arctic to the tropical islands, through deserts both searingly hot and mind-numbingly cold and see, in pioneering images, a dazzling array of mysterious, beautiful, wild and rare creatures.
Wild China is split across six episodes which aired on TV around the globe earlier this year. Each of the two discs on this release contains three episodes which are as follows:
"Heart of the Dragon" which looks at southern China and the large rice cultivation areas.
"Shangri-La" focuses on the south-western Yunnan province and focuses on China's 250 remaining Asian elephants.
"Tibet" which looks at the province of Tibet including animals that live in some of the highest terrain on earth, including the highest, Mount Everest.
"Beyond the Great Wall" looks at the Great Wall of China, as well as the silk road, of which the original path still remains in places.
"Land of the Panda" focuses on the central regions of China and looks at many endangered species, including the Panda.
"Tides of Change" focuses on the coastlines of China.
|The rice bowl in China is amazing.|
As an overall package this is a stunning release covering all corners of the country. The range of locations and wildlife shown is stunning and the cinematography is also sensational. If you've never been to China you will certainly want to go after seeing this release. Also shown are many of the countries rarest animals including some of the last elephants in China.
|Wild China goes to all corners of the country.|
If there is one particular negative comment to be made about this documentary it's simply that the filmmakers have seemingly ignored any of the more controversial aspects of China - their invasion of Tibet in 1950, the rapid destruction of habitat is talked about but rarely shown, pollution levels aren't mentioned and nor is the treatment of animals beyond everything being eaten or being used for medicinal purposes to near extinction.
Without a doubt Wild China is one of the greatest documentaries released on DVD or Blu-Ray. The presentation is superb, and the six episodes well structured.
Wild China comes to Blu-Ray using the AVC MPEG-4 codec at the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and at a resolution of 1920 x 1080i. As with other BBC productions the video has been encoded in an interlaced format however, there seemed to be fewer issues with this disc then what we noticed with Galapagos recently. We were, though, initially very concerned as the BBC HD logo has some severe colour banding.
When you first watch this release your breath will be taken away. From the deserts to the icy mountains, the lush jungles to deep underwater so many locations really are spectacular. This Blu-Ray release looks vastly superior to the DVD release, with a sharper image, better stability in the image and a little more vibrancy.
|The Panda is one of the worlds most loved animals.|
Having said that there is something rather strange with this Blu-Ray release. The first three episodes are provided on a BD-25 disc, and the second three (and the brief SD featurette) are presented on a BD-50 disc. It was actually evident from viewing these episodes that the compression on the first three episodes was slightly higher then the last three and looking at the bitrate on the PS3 confirmed that the first disc averaged around 15-20Mbps on each episode while the second disc was a much more generous 25-30Mbps. The result; the second discs three episodes look sharper, more vibrant, and quite a bit nicer overall.
This isn't what you would call a prime example of 'High Definition' but it is a step up from the TV presentation. A bad release, no. Below the best on Blu-Ray, yes.
|Some stunning architecture.|
Unlike the recently reviewed Galapagos the audio on this disc isn't limited to Dolby Digital 2.0, but rather Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 640kbps. While never used extensively each of the episodes include some use of the surround sound channels which adds a little more ambience and immersion to the features as well as improved clarity.
Narration throughout this release has been provided by Bernard Hill (who you may know best as King Théoden of Rohan from the second and third Lord of the Rings films). His narration is perfect for this documentary - a clear and mellow tone.
There wasn't much expected with the extras on this disc - indeed other BBC documentaries don't have any, but there is a little gem on the second disc in this set.
Hunting Dragons (26:47): As a documentary we didn't expect much in the way of extras, but this really is brilliant. Despite only being presented in Standard Definition this is a brilliant half hour look at the various filming locations, the difficulties in reaching many of these locations (including filming with dangerous vipers) and lighting areas like caves so you can see inside, but it still looks natural. Fascinating and brilliant to watch.
|Wild China at its colourful best.|
Wild China may not touch on any controversial topics associated with the country, but it still manages to be an engrossing 6 hour look at some of the most unique nature and wildlife in the world. The release also includes a great documentary. Visually the release is a mixed bag, the first three episodes are more compressed then the others, and it shows, but overall this is still wonderful and a perfect addition to you Blu-Ray collection at a cheap launch price.
Review By: Dave Warner
Note: All images in this article are Copyright© BBC/Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.