“Bigger... Better… Slower.” – BlueMarvel
It’s hard to believe a nature series completely devoid of narration or music could actually fly, but in 2003 documentary filmmaker David Conover proved there is something to the “less is more” principle when he created ‘Sunrise Earth’ for HD Theater and the Discovery Channel. Defined by Conover as “Experiential HDTV,” the goal was to develop a program that didn’t use many edits or artificial sounds and simply captured “nature’s events at nature’s pace.” This no frills/no gimmicks technique isn’t particularly innovative, but what makes it special is how it enables us to experience the alluring beauty of our planet by bringing the great outdoors into our living rooms.
The concept for ‘Sunrise Earth’ became a huge success, and Conover and his team produced over sixty episodes, including a handful of “viewer’s choice” themes over the course of five seasons. By 2007, Conover had built up such an extensive library of divine sunrises, radiant sunsets, and breathtaking vistas that he decided he wanted to do even more and cofounded BlueMarvel. The company was the next steppingstone in his mission to license and distribute experiential programming to the masses via broadcast, video-on-demand, advertising, and close-circuit video systems such as office environments and the healthcare industry. BlueMarvel also has plans to pick up where the Discovery Channel left off and release Experiential HDTV on home video.
‘Coastal Dawns’ is BlueMarvel’s first home video product, and the Blu-ray includes two programs roughly an hour-long each. “Maui” travels to Hawaii’s second largest island and features some of the most breathtaking images captured at Wai’anapanapa State Park Preserve off the Hana Coast. Majestic palm trees stand tall swaying in the breeze as the sun peeks over the horizon at daybreak, while mighty waves crash against jagged rocks and caress black sand beaches. Colonies of indigenous marine bird species such as the black noddy can also be seen building their nests into the basaltic ocean cliffs. "Maui" is tailor-made for pulling up a lounger and cracking open a Corona.
Going from aloha to ahoy, we head far northeast to the Camden Hills State Park in “Maine.” Unlike "Maui" which doesn’t show any signs of man at all, this installment highlights the seaport in Penobscot Bay—composed of many images of fishing boats and boardwalks located in the harbor. Sometimes the waters are so calm I thought Conover cut some corners and slipped in some still photographs, but then you begin to notice leaves in the foreground or a flag down by the docks gently blowing in the wind. Personally, I don’t think I liked this one as much as the previous episode, but I’m sure it would be right up some peoples’ alleys. Conover himself actually lives in the area, so I know for a fact it holds a special place in his heart.
‘Coastal Dawns’ can be viewed entirely in its natural form, or viewers have the option to activate one of two different text overlays that periodically pop-up with captions of information. “Field Guide Notes” not only gives a brief fact about the wildlife or landscape of the area being shown, this option also displays the day of the year and the exact time of morning the footage was captured on video. “Inspirational Quotes” on the other hand, shares famous quotations and snippets of poetry.
It’s worth noting that the BlueMarvel logo only appears momentarily in the lower right corner of the screen whenever text is displayed—even though the sample on the BlueMarvel website gives the impression that it’s a permanent fixture. And while the programs revert back to the menu when finished, they start up on their own after about two minutes in an automatic loop. This way, burn-in on certain televisions shouldn’t be a concern.
‘Coastal Dawns’ is a great escape to two wonderful retreats, plus with the images changing every thirty seconds or so, the disc never gets dull or repetitive. I just wish BlueMarvel had included more than two episodes of content like the ‘Sunrise’ volumes. Still, both “Maui” and “Maine” have their appeal, but since this time of year is pretty brutal up here in Winnipeg--you can’t really blame me for favoring the tropics.
The main selling point of ‘Coastal Dawns’ is obviously the video, and BlueMarvel delivers a stunning full 1080p/VC-1 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) transfer that easily ranks up there among the best on Blu-ray.
The source is crystal clear, with deep and inky black levels and fantastic contrast. Colors are vibrant and lush, especially the golden yellows and bright orange hues as the sun is cast over the horizon. The plant life in “Maui” is such a healthy dark green you can practically smell the freshness. Likewise, the filmmakers cleverly filmed “Maine” in October to capture the spectacular colors of autumn leaves in mid-transformation with the bright reds of maples, the light yellowish-greens of birch and beech foliage, to the summery greens of oaks. Detail is outstandingly sharp, and depth often gives a three-dimensional illusion inviting you to walk onto the beach. Honestly, without a mere hint of source noise, grain, artifacts, or other imperfections, the folks at BlueMarvel must have cherry-picked every sequence as there isn’t a single bad apple in the bunch.
Following the same trend as the ‘Sunrise Earth’ collections on Blu-ray, ‘Coastal Dawns’ doesn’t include any lossless audio options. The only tracks available are Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0--and unfortunately, both are pretty underwhelming.
While the only sounds we hear are that of the tides, whistling wind, and the odd calls of seabirds, I wouldn’t say the soundtracks are exactly muffled, however they do come across a bit flat and almost tinny at times. I would have liked to hear a more natural and soothing ambiance in my living room to enhance the overall experience. That being said, there’s plenty of room for improvement so hopefully BlueMarvel will keep this in mind for future volumes.
’Coastal Dawns’ doesn’t have much to offer in terms of supplements, although there are a couple of items of interest:
Conover's "Experiential HDTV" is a niche form of nature programming that really can't get any simpler, yet somehow it manages to be surprisingly effective. It teaches us that sometimes we just need to take a break from our busy schedules and marvel at the beauty of our planet by stopping and smelling the roses. 'Coastal Dawns' gives us a chance to do so with a solid sampling of two calming and relaxing atmospheres in outstanding 1080p, making it the perfect escape when you could use a moment of Zen.