With 45 shoots in 29 different countries using advanced filming techniques, the series provides all the spectacle of the best nature documentaries. It also goes a step further by capturing real-life encounters between wild animals and the people who live and work with them. These up-close looks at a range of species, from giant pandas to humpback whales, African lions and Arctic reindeer, uncover how people and wildlife – even top predators – can thrive alongside each other and be mutually beneficial.
Each of the five episodes – Home, Plains, Forests, Oceans and Water – visits a different critical habitat in which humans are engaging with nature in new ways. The stunning nature sequences in these “frontier” places reveal the new and surprising roles that wild nature plays in our lives and the critical part people can play in restoring the natural world.
Nature documentaries of a grand scale have become a welcome feature on PBS, Discovery, and the BBC. There is so much to learn and see and take in that just when you think you’ve seen it all and can’t possibly take in any more, along comes something like ‘Earth A New Wild.’ Split over five 57 minute episodes, we follow Dr. M. Sanjayan as he travels the world, going to extreme climates and seeing the ways that man impacts the environment around them, and works to improve it.
This series maintains a very wonderful, upbeat presentation. That isn’t to say that it shies away from the harmful impacts man has made on the natural surroundings, but rather than dwelling on the negative, it goes a long way to showcase how people are working to make a difference to save the environment and create what Dr. Sanjayan calls a “new wild.” The episodes are titled “Home,” “Plains,” “Forests,” “Oceans,” “Water,” and are spread over two discs.
So baby pandas are pretty darn adorable. We all knew that already, but what is incredible to see is China’s amazing breeding program of “wilding” captive born pandas and releasing them into the wild. This episode also features a fantastic segment with Dr. Jane Goodall and her work creating tree corridors for chimps to travel through free from human interaction allowing the groups of chimps to diversify their mating choices preventing destructive inbreeding. We then travel to India to see how people of Bangladesh live their daily lives with the threat of tiger attacks and how the presence of tigers are actually a benefit. Next, Dr. Sanjayan travels to Austin Texas and showcases how one colony of bats that number in the millions are responsible for insect population control.
This episode opens with a particularly interesting advancement in Elephant population control. Dr. Sanjayan meets a Allan Savory who pioneered the practice of Elephant culls to help control the population. In recent years he discovered he was wrong and that in the small space of lands available they need more elephants to help keep the lands healthy. Next, Dr. Sanjayan travels to the frigid regions of Norway where the locals have a particularly interesting (to say the least) method for castrating the males to not only help keep the population numbers in control, but to also keep the animals healthier. Next we move to South Dakota to see how population control of prairie dogs impacted the number of black-footed ferrets and the steps they’re taking to turn the dwindling numbers around. Dr. Sanjayan then travels back to Africa to see how the Maasai and nomadic herders use traditional fencing methods as well as state of the art equipment to keep lions away.
This was a particularly fascinating episode since it showcases the Ecuadorian jungle and the indigenous peoples that live inside these dense woods. Dr. Sanjayan sees their symbiotic relationship they have with nature. We then travel to the cork forests of Portugal that serves as an example of man-made ecosystems. Then Dr. Sanjayan travels to Indonesia where farms are at risk of destruction by rogue bull elephants and the steps they take to move the animals away from populated ares without killing them. We then travel to Canada to the Great Bear Rainforest and how the First Nations peoples that live there use nature to not only help with the annual herring run, but also safe methods of farming fish eggs.
Dr. Sanjayan begins in Palmyra where the imbalance in the ecosystem contributes to the increase in sharks. We next move to Melanesia and how they manage overfishing by using a “Facebook for fish” tagging system that helps them pinpoint areas where bluefin tuna spawn. Dr. Sanjayan then travels to the Bahamas where lemon sharks go to breed, and you get to see a life birth of baby sharks and their relocation to safer waters! Next we come to Key Largo and see the incredible man-made coral reefs that are working to breed sun-resistant species that can handle the increasingly warmer ocean waters. Dr. Sanjayan then travels to Mexico to experience a revolutionary new method for fish farming that involves a massive hundred foot wide sphere. We then move to New York City where work is underway to encourage oysters to move back into the polluted New York waters as they serve as a natural filtering system.
This episode was particularly dire feeling as it primarily deals with man’s impact on natural waterways. It opens nicely with a tribesmen in Kenya who revolutionized farming in his country even as he endured ridicule from his family. The most dramatic parts of this episode comes when Dr. Sanjayan visits Uzbekistan and the complete disappearance of one of the largest lakes in Europe. Sanjayan then attempts to travel the length of the Colorado River to the sea and because of dams and agriculture use, it no longer connects to the sea. Things turn for a positive note when he showcases the success of an 80 year effort at the hands or people in Missouri to rebuild a natural wetlands for migrating birds and thusly help predatory birds like Bald Eagles return as well. This hopeful tone finishes with a showcase of how new dam management techniques allows the Colorado River to reach the sea for the first time in over a decade.
This was truly an enlightening series. There is so much on display here that it is one that I will be gladly revisiting it many more times.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Earth A New Wild’ arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of PBS on two BD50 discs housed in a standard 2 disc Blu-ray case. Each disc opens directly to the main menu that allows you to chose which episode you want to view. Supplementary content is on disc 2.
‘Earth A New Wild’ comes to life in a fine 1.78:1 AVC 1080i HD presentation. Don’t let the 1080i note worry you, this is still a beautiful looking documentary to say the least. Like many of these sort of shows, this presentation is cobbled together from a variety of digital sources. Some are softer than others, some have more digital noise, but all around it is a beauty. Colors and primaries have real pop and feel real to life and not tweaked in any negative way. Detail is also fantastic as the fine details of the forests, oceans, and the wildlife on display come through with crystal clarity. Black levels are a bit here and there, but that's more of a side effect of the different source elements than any transfer issue.
Sporting an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, ‘Earth A New Wild’ is pretty basic nature documentary sound. The surround channels don’t get much action accept to provide a little more imaging and atmosphere on the side channels. Since this track is dominated primarily by narration or interviews, dialogue is crisp and clear keeping to the midranges. Background score is present throughout, but it’s more like ambient sound as it rarely intrudes into the mix until episodes reach grandiose scenes or at the open and close. A solid track all around.
Bonus Interview With Dr. Sanjayan (HD 3:16): This is a very brief promotional interview with host Dr. Sanjayan as he discusses what his goals were with the project and some of the things he was amazed to learn. To be honest, this is hardly an extra feature at all as it doesn't really provide anything to offer in terms of the production of this series.
I love nature documentaries. I don’t watch them for any type of political bent, I watch them because I love to learn about things that I can’t see right outside my window. But when a nature doc comes along that not only exposes me to the world at large but also shows me more about an environment I experience almost daily, I kind of flip out a little. ‘Earth A New Wild’ is just such a documentary series. Like other docs, it showcases beautiful images of wildlife, but what sets this one apart is its maintained tone of hope. This is a wonderful series, and yes it shows the unfortunate consequences of man’s intrusion upon natural habitats, but it spends far more time appreciating the efforts to reverse the trends and the positive results that have come from such efforts. With a sharp eye-catching HD presentation and a great audio mix, ‘Earth A New Wild’ is an easy recommend.