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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

 

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Wild China (2 Disc Set) [Blu-ray]

 

(Series Produced by Phil Chapman, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: BBC

Blu-ray: BBC Video & 2/entertain

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 350 min

Chapters:

Size: 25/50

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: August 5, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 10801

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

English DD 5.1 Surround

 

Subtitles:

Feature & Bonus: English SDH & Mandarin

 

Extras:

• Hunting Dragons: A Making-Of Featurette (26:47)

 

 

 

The Film: 8
Capitalizing on its phenomenal success with Planet Earth in all video formats, the BBC has just released its new series on China in time to coincide with the Beijing Olympic Games. Curiously titled "Wild China" this six-part series ventures into just many aspects of life in China today: wild and civil. In fact, contrary to the thrust of Planet Earth, there is considerable footage here of the extraordinary variety of racial subgroups that share the country with its wildlife in a kind of harmony all but forgotten in the West.

The narrative arc of each episode is very much like that of Planet Earth – three related segments within an overarching theme. There is one episode titled "Tibet" which tackles the question of sovereignty from the outset, acknowledging Tibet to have been a "province of China for the past 50 years." It goes on to look at that country/province with tender regard for its culture as well as the Everest's jumping spiders. "Heart of the Dragon" wanders across endless rice terraces and tastes of the dragonfly nymphs. Another extended segment tells all about the historical and current Silk Road, from worms, through spinning, to trade. "Beyond the Great Wall" follows bicyclists along the Black Dragon River in winter, and the ruins of ancient cities. In the final episode "Tides of Change" efforts at conservation in the context of an exploding population are examined.
 

Image: 3/6~7
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

While image quality Planet Earth was variable, it was so only in relation to the source material. Not so here. From the Bonus Feature "Hunting Dragons" we learn that the series in shot in High Definition video. Well, you'd never know it to look at this Blu-ray. I dare say I've seen better picture quality on any number of 480i DVDs. Color and contrast are generally good, but occasionally inexplicably poor, as at the Great Wall. On the other hand, there are precious few frames that do not suffer from poor resolution and/or sharpness. Edges of trees or mountainsides against a bright background are particularly problematic. (Could China's pollution be so bad that it effects every location, no matter how remote or how clear the day!) In fact, the evidence is no further away than the promo piece for Planet Earth that begins disc two. The difference between Wild China and Planet Earth is far from subtle – and you don't need to compare similar scenes to see it.


 

Interestingly, the box for Wild China indicates that the feature is in 1080i instead of 1080p. Even if so, this does not explain the poor quality. Worse still: for reasons passing understanding, disc one, with three hours of content, is written on a 25 GB disc at bit rates routinely around 11-16 Mbps. The 50 GB disc, with about half an hour more content, has bit rates at least double, with observable, though subtle improvement in picture quality. Whatever the explanation, while the content is fascinating, the medium is not. The larger your display, the more you will suffer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
The narrator for this series is Bernard Hill – doubtless a name that will not ring many bells west of the U.K., though Mr. Hill has a considerable vitae as a film and television actor dating back to the 1970s. You might remember him in the part of Theoden in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. I'm glad for having a new voice for this series, much as I enjoyed David Attenborough's pronouncements of galactic import. All the same I can't say I was enraptured. Maybe I was so distracted by the dreadful image that I couldn't give Mr. Hill his due. I tried a few minutes with my eyes closed: that seemed to work better. The background score – alternately oriental and occidental - is meekly recorded, but the live sounds come off reasonably well. Don't expect much from the surrounds. All together, it sounds like goulash.

 

Operations: 7
The menu operations couldn't be simpler – all in English with Chinese characters above them.


 

Extras: 4
Only a single featurette is included – its 16x9 480i image is only a bit less lovely than the feature itself. "Hunting Dragons" is an attempt to make up for the very thing missing from the otherwise awesome Planet Earth: a "how did they film that" segment. I'd give it an "A" for intent and a "C-" for execution. In addition to following the crew as it dealt with some of its more challenging locations, the piece also serves as a big thank-you to the people of China for letting us into their lives and country for such an intimate picture.

 

 

Bottom line: 8/4
Aside from this latest introduction to China, which has to be regarded both as politically correct and culturally fascinating, I have to report that the image quality for this Blu-ray release will be serious bad news for anyone expecting the level of excellence that we have come to know and love from Planet Earth. And that's an understatement. "A-" for the material. "D" for production. Rent it. Or, buy it, and complain loudly.

 

Leonard Norwitz
August 10, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 





 

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