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Discovery Atlas: Brazil Revealed (Blu-ray)
Discovery Channel / 2006 / 102 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: January 30, 2007
List Price: $24.95
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Editor's Note: Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our HD DVD review of 'Discovery Atlas: Brazil Revealed.'
'Discovery Atlas: Brazil Revealed' is one of four episodes of the shot-on-HD "Discovery Atlas" television series that have recently been released on Blu-ray, HD DVD and standard-def DVD. These first four installments (Australia, Brazil, China and Italy) kick off a planned twenty episode series designed to highlight various countries around the world in stunning high-def. Of the three episodes I've reviewed so far, the series debut (focusing on Australia) remains my favorite, but 'Brazil Revealed' is a close second.
Like the other episodes in the series, 'Brazil Revealed' focuses its cameras on average citizens (rather than celebrities or famous political figures), and once again the concept delivers in spades. Presented as a series of vignettes punctuated by lush photography, each of those profiled presents a different and often entirely unique perspective, painting a rich and vibrant portrait of a country starkly divided between poverty and wealth.
Among the participants: Boa Gente Conceicao and the young Jackson dos Santos are martial artists, Caneta Bittencourt is a river trader who travels the Amazon, Luciana Chaves is a civil servant that works for the government and longs to dance at Carnaval, Clarissa Pereira is a helicopter pilot in her mid twenties, Rodrigo Ferreira is a rodeo cowboy, while Jacqueline Diniz is a soccer-playing maid who dreams of winning the largest amateur soccer tournament in the world.
'Brazil Revealed' is narrated by Mississippi-born actress Sela Ward -- a strange choice (given that the other episodes of the series have been narrated by actors native to the country being profiled), but while Ward's delivery is sometimes a bit dry, she does seems genuinely intrigued by the subject matter and gives a good performance that kept me interested throughout.
At just an hour and thirty-two minutes, once again the only true disappointment with this disc is the sometimes abbreviated nature of the biographies, which could have benefited from a bit more depth. Still, in the end, 'Brazil Revealed' is a fascinating introduction to Brazil and its people. Well-crafted and boasting some gorgeous cinematography, this doc makes for a great video demo and will definitely find its way onto my shelves next to the excellent Australian episode of the same series.
Filmed entirely in HD, 'Brazil Revealed' looks amazing. While the Australian episode had infrequent issues with compression artifacts, this episode had no technical glitches, artifacting, or motion blurring. Presented in 1080i utilizing the VC-1 codec, 'Brazil Revealed' showcases a wonderful level of fine object detail, color vibrance, and contrast stability. Skintones are natural, insanely textured, and appear three dimensional even when the sun is bearing down on the participants. Black levels are deep, shadow delineation is great, and there aren't any instances of color banding or source noise.
This series already looked good when it was aired in its original HD broadcast, but here obviously the bitrate is much higher and the image is crisp and clean. Hair, stubble, animal fur, and fabric look real. Wide shots of cities show off tiny buildings in the distance with individual stone work and window panes. I could read the small lettering on the helicopter, count the ripples of the Amazon, and practically touch the beading and sequins on the Samba dresses -- everything leaps off the screen. There's also no discernable difference in picture quality between the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions -- they're both wonderful. If you're looking for a vibrant demo disc, 'Brazil Revealed' joins the other "Discovery Atlas" episodes as reference level discs for high definition documentaries.
As with most documentaries, the audio package on 'Brazil Revealed' isn't a particularly impressive technical monster, simply because the narration and conversation-heavy track relegates a majority of the sound design to the front of your home theater. Having said that, there's nothing particuarly wrong with this 576 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, which actually boasts more oomph than the other two episodes I've reviewed so far. There are some impressive moments when all of the channels come to life -- busy Brazilian streets, the movement of the Amazon, and the whir of helicopter blades all caught my attention. Narration and conversations are all crisp and clear, and there isn't any environmental noise or volume discrepancies to distract audiophiles (a minor problem in the Australian episode).
To top it al off, I was pleased to find that ambiant audio had been increased quite a bit for this episode -- while it still didn't quite floor me, the sounds of Brazil really swarm with life during a lot of scenes. It seems that each episode of the "Discovery Atlas" series improves the overall audio package -- I can't wait to hear what's next!
Although we've been unable to get ahold of a standard-def edition of the 'Discovery Atlas' series for comparison purposes, we're told that all of the included supplements are exclusive to high definition -- as a result, you'll find all of this disc's supplements outlined in the section below.
Considering that each of the "Discovery Atlas" epsiodes were limited by airtime as a television show, I was expecting a lot of additional footage and interview pieces to appear as bonuses on these discs, but alas, as with the other four initial installments of the series, there really isn't much here in the way of supplemental features.
There are, however, a few little crumbs for us to nibble on (and since it's more than standard-def DVD gets, I suppose I should be thankful). Included are: a short promotional spot for 'Brazil Revealed,' a quick Q&A with the documentary's director Graham Booth, a photo gallery, and a promotional featurette (that appears on each high-def release in the "Discover Atlas" series) that explores the directors, the purpose of the worldwide project, and the HD filming of the series.
Again, each of these supplements are pretty slight, but on the bright side, they're all presented in full 1080i resolution, and -- like the rest of the disc -- they look great.
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The "Discovery Atlas" series provides a unique look at the countries it covers and 'Brazil Revealed' is another top notch entry. The video is jaw dropping, the technically impressive audio is improved over the two previously-reviewed entries of the series, and the documentary itself provides an intriguing look at the citizenry of Brazil. While it remains a pity that none of these HD releases include much in the way of additional footage, 'Brazil Revealed' is a worthy addition for documentary fans and those wishing to show off the astounding visuals of high-def.
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