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Blu-ray Review: Wild Pacific

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It is perhaps unfair that titles in the BBC Earth series have an almost impossibly high bar to live up to: Planet Earth. Had it not been so well done, or so richly dense in content, these additional titles could be seen as either something more or something else. But the oceans and some of the remote islands within them were already covered on Planet Earth. Granted, they were at an efficient speed, but we got the basic gist. So the task set for a title such as Wild Pacific is to become something uniquely different. And they partly succeed.

The Movie

The main areas where Wild Pacific differentiates itself are with content and style. With content, there is an obvious advantage here because they are allowed to focus on one area of nature and explore it to much fuller depths (cheap pun only partially intended). The series is divided into six installments, each tackling a specific aspect of the Pacific, such as topography of the region and its change over time ("Ocean of Volcanoes"), the struggles of species survival in this isolated area ("Castaways") or the human civilizations populating these tiny and far-flung islands ("Ocean of Islands"). A specific area of distinction between this series and Planet Earth is the emphasis on humans, both as cultures within and forces of nature acting against it. Roughly equal time is given to creatures within the sea and those living on its islands, as well as discussion on weather and tidal patterns that come into play for both. There are times when the content feels stretched a bit thin, as some items get repeated between shows. But for the most part they were able to mine further points of interest, and with greater detail, than previously allowed.

Style is where things become even more distinct, and it's not always in a good way. Again, taking Planet Earth as an example, that series contained so much information on so many different aspects of Earth that it had to move at an impressive pace in order to cover everything. But with that also came a more detached objectivity to its subject. It was "just the facts, ma'am," in order to move along to the next topic. Wild Pacific completely loses that objectivity, becoming a much more story- and agenda-driven piece. Everything from fish to penguins to native tribes of the Pacific Isles are tied back to their overall effect and impact on the environment. This isn't to say that the information itself is in question or error, but the tone with which it is presented is anything but balanced. Even the narrated script (delivered ably by Benedict Cumberbatch) is more melodramatic in tone. And this would all be more forgivable if the entire final episode – one sixth of the whole series – weren't one long call to action on conservation and the dangers of over-fishing. This will be a matter of personal opinion, to be sure, but just a note that this angle is prominent.

Video/Audio

For the most part, Wild Pacific continues the high benchmark set by Planet Earth and other BBC Nature documentaries. Phenomenal images of our natural world abound and the picture is largely pristine, with rich color and exacting detail. But then there are the other times… I can appreciate the difficulties involved with filming in some of these locales (what I call "filming the unfilmable"), but especially with some of the underwater footage, quality can at times vary considerably. Sometimes near-perfect footage is followed by shots that show considerable amounts of blocking and/or compression. And in a couple of instances, simply a reliance on what looks like poor stock footage (don't be scared by this one though, it literally only happened for a total of a few seconds each). So yes, the bulk of the footage is much closer to the top end of the spectrum, but unfortunately they weren't able to maintain this for the full run of the series.

The audio is simply disappointing, as the only option is for a stereo track that isn't even uncompressed. To be fair it's one of the better mixed stereo tracks I've heard, giving ample balance between the involved music beds, narration, and sound effects. But it is still only stereo, which leaves the BBC Earth series thus far with a bewilderingly spotty record of audio tracks. A documentary series is about all that could get away with this technical laziness, but it's a definite minus for something that was specifically filmed for a high-def home theater setup.

Bonus Materials

The only supplemental materials included are 10-minute "diaries" tacked on to the end of each episode. These are behind-the-scenes shorts that show the crew trying to capture some of the footage from the episode. And while overly structured and narrated, they are also very interesting. Generally they focus on attempts to capture one piece of footage, and you start to get a sense of the incredible planning, luck, and time that is involved with each and every shot in the series. Hopefully they will continue this for future releases, as this kind of peek behind the veil gives you a much greater appreciation for the dedication and craft of these filmmakers.

Conclusion

Enjoyment for Wild Pacific may depend partly on your interest in ecology and conservation as much as simply the natural world. As it wears its "save our oceans" message a little too prominently on its sleeve, your enthusiasm for the same will factor into the experience. But this still contains nature documentary footage of the highest caliber, and the concentration on a particular area of the Earth gives a nice and thorough focus to the series. This will definitely not supplant the vastly superior Planet Earth set, but for those wanting more, Wild Pacific offers a largely intriguing glimpse into "an ocean of extraordinary discoveries."

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About David R Perry