'The Human Body: Pushing the Limits' is a fascinating series that takes us on a journey into mankind's favorite subject -- itself. It's rare to see a documentary on the human body that isn't just another small-screen version of those boring old short subjects you were forced to watch in grade school, but instead offers a completely new perspective on how we see ourselves. Combining computer graphics with more traditional documentary and interview material, 'Pushing the Limits' weaves a unique tapestry that literally pulls back the skin on the human body.
Originally broadcast on the Discovery Channel in March 2008, 'The Human Body' is told in four episodes (running about 40 minutes each), with each exploring a separate group of body functions: "Strength," "Sight," "Sensation," and "Brain Power." At first, the approach seems numblingly predictable. We're introduced to a variety of doctoral types, as well as stories of real-life survivors of amazing accidents and incidents. For example, in "Strength," a young man is sucked up into a tornado only to be spat out a quarter of a mile away unharmed, while in "Sight," a lifeguard applies his remarkable skills of pattern recognition to spot one drowning man amid thousands at the beach. While intriguing and often emotional, these talking heads do little to suggest that 'The Human Body' will offer anything we haven't seen before, albeit well done.
It's the series' CGI sequences that elevates 'Pushing the Limits' to new heights for what is essentially a medical documentary. The rendered animations of the human skeleton and musculature are sometimes incredible -- we watch our organs move, lungs breathe, and bones bend in amazingly life-like detail and realistic movement. That 'The Human Body' is able to educate is no surprise, but what would otherwise be a series of merely banal factoids (did you know there are about 70 unique muscle movements required to sip a simple cup of coffee?) borders on the awe-inspiring when you see them animated in such a unique fashion. Though the CGI trickery may lose some of its luster by the end of the four episodes, 'The Human Body' truly offers sights I've never seen before in science class.
Image/Discovery Channel spreads the four episodes of 'The Human Body: Pushing the Limits' across two BD-25 single-layer discs, with two episodes apiece. The 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 encode is very solid, and easily handles the variety of source elements.
Complete technical information about the source has not been supplied by Image, but 'Pushing the Limits' looks to have been largely shot on HD, with some film-based and archival material interspersed throughout. The CGI-based sequences are particularly impressive, with excellent color saturation, nice detail, and a high-contrast but not overtly digital appearance. The sporadic film-based shots are comparatively weak, but generally not distracting. Interview segments fall in the middle, looking a bit soft but otherwise clean and detailed, and with nice fleshtones. There are no major encode issues, though even on the clean CGI sequences some motion artifacts and jaggies could be detected. Considering the material, 'The Human Body: Pushing the Limits' looks very good indeed.
Though announced with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track, 'The Human Body: Pushing the Limits' sports only standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps) tracks, both in English. However, despite the loss of a high-res option, what we do get is perfectly adequate for the material.
Despite a few minor discrete effects (largely during the CGI sequences), 'The Human Body' is front heavy. Dialogue is front and center, with the interview segments comprising the largest chunk of runtime. There is very slight score bleed, but nothing distinguished. Dynamics are perfectly fine for this type of material, with supportive low bass and no issues with overly bright highs or compressed midrange. The source is also perfectly clean, with no volume balance issues on dialogue. A perfectly fine, perfectly standard Dolby 5.1 presentation.
There are no supplements at all. No commentary, making-of, or even additional footage. Oh, well.
'The Human Body: Pushing the Limits' is an innovative four-part Discovery Channel series. Thanks to cutting-edge CGI, it explores our bodies in ways that can be, quite frankly, amazing. This Blu-ray set is pretty bare bones, but delivers solid video and audio. I can't say 'The Human Body: Pushing the Limits' will have extensive replay value for everyone, but if nothing else it is absolutely a must-rent.