As a child one of my favorite television genres was the nature documentary. Our family didn’t seem to have any on video (nor did we have cable), so trips to the grandparents were always a delight when a nature show would pop onto the screen. Thankfully nature documentaries have come a long way in the past 30 years, and have come into their own, even achieving popularity as feature length theatrical releases.
Smithsonian Networks' Wildlife Collection gives a new spin on the nature documentary by not only exploring the animals themselves, but by giving insight into the lives of the researchers and filmmakers who seek to capture animals in the wild. This box set includes three DVDs: Pandas in the Wild, The Big Blue, and Wanted: Anaconda.
Pandas in the Wild follows a team of researchers into the Chinese highlands in search of the giant panda. Finding a small group of individuals, the team is able to capture scenes rarely filmed in the wild – panda mating rituals, the secluded dens where the mothers nurse their young, and the cub’s first forays into the world around it. Because these scenes are captured in the wild and on the run, or crawl in some cases, the dense bamboo and rock outcroppings often obfuscate the view. You might not realize the pandas are mating without the help of the female narrator, for example. You’ll be hearing a lot of cooing from your children as the mother and cub snuggle and nurse – if you’re not careful, you might even join in!
The Big Blue is the slowest paced of the triad. Featuring the search for blue whales feeding on krill, much of the screen time is devoted to waiting, speculating on the whales’ possible location, and exploring the currents that bring the whales to the coast of Australia. This film also features more of the surrounding ecosystem than the other two. The birds, seals, fish, and krill that benefit from deep, nutrient-dense ocean currents are all prominently featured as well. My conceptions of the feeding and hunting of baleen whales has been forever changed (and corrected) by the insights and footage shared in this title.
The disc also includes an additional 40-minute documentary Footprints on the Water: The Nan Hauser Story which explores the life work of a scientist dedicated to the conservation of beaked whales. Hauser’s life in the Cook Islands and work in whale acoustics, humpback research, and more are all touched on in this further exploration of the limits of modern whale knowledge.