Friday, March 07, 2008

Attenborough, you magnificent bastard!

Subject: TV
I love me some quality nature documentaries

As a TV-watching youth in the 70's, my exposure to the vast natural world was limited to the "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins" (and his flunkie Jim who was always putting himself in harms way) and "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau". There were only about 8 channels to watch back then, so you took what you could get, as sanitized -- yet fascinating -- as they were.

In college, my housemates and I weren't much into "normal" TV, but we did watch an inordinate amount of nature documentaries on the nascent cable-TV channels like Discovery and whatnot. And those cable channels dipped heavily into the content pool known as the BBC.

David Attenborough is the pentultamite nature documentarian. Above and beyond every other show, his would dig deep into the weirdest, darkest, remotest -- and did I say weirdest? -- recesses of our planet, and with his dry, wry British staidness (only slightly betraying his own fascination), he presented the endless parade of all the truly f*'ed up things one could find on this planet, if one just bothered to look hard enough.

His Grande Opus Maximus is the hi-def series for the BBC called, simply and completely, "planet earth". Broadcast in the US with the narration replaced by Sigourny Weaver, it pales to the full onslaught of planetary awesomeness that the Blu-Ray BBC originals portray. Brilliant, detailed satellite imagery gives way to vast aerial panoramas showing every little tiny detail of herds, flocks, swarms, jungles, forests, deserts, oceans... and then we get up close and personal to the point of seeing every bead of dew, every drop of sweat, and every strange and seeming alien -- and yet extremely familiar -- little nook and cranny of the Earth that most can only dream of someday seeing and visting.

Those nature documentaries, back in the day, always astounded me by managing to show me something totally jaw-droppingly impressive. Something I've never seen before. Just when you think you'd seen it all, Attenborough would dig something up and show you that you didn't know squat about the planet you lived on. And all these years later, with stunning imagery and the best in technology, he still manages to show me astonishing things I never knew existed!

I'm 3 discs into the 4 disc (12 episode) series, and it gets a little bit repetitive, as the different themes tend to overlap each other. Also, my Blu-Ray HTPC setup isn't exactly perfect -- it could use some better calibration, and the hardware and software are kind of borderline when it comes to playback. And with the content, there's the slightest bit of cheese in how he's manipulating the sound effects and editing to build suspension and get you to experience the plight of the multitude of creatures struggling against predators and adversity.

But it's still very, very impressive. Very impressive.

Once I settle on an actual dedicated Blu-Ray player, I'm buying this set for sure. It's a keeper. It's impossible to watch it in such brilliant detail without feeling the awe and vastness of a planet which I've only experienced a tiny part of personally. Okay, a big TV helps. But still, it's something that you just can't miss.

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