Madagascar. The world's personal Petri Dish.
After breaking off from Africa millions of years ago, the island of Madagascar has remained secluded ever since. Because of this, hundreds of species have evolved there to create a land like no other. Leave it up to the BBC Earth people to go in and find out the inerrancies of Madagascar's beauty, life, and ultimately frail existence. It's a pretty moving experience to see some of these unique, critically endangered animals that may not be around for much longer.
The first episode of this three-part miniseries narrated by BBC veteran David Attenborough is titled "Island of Marvels," which discusses the uniqueness of the island and some of the strange creatures located there. Lemurs take center stage here, as there are numerous different species of these mammals and each has their own adaptations to help them survive in specific areas on the island. One particular species is found only in the reeds along a certain lake in Madagascar. It's amazing to watch these specialized animals, but it's also easy to see how they could become extinct in an instant if their natural habitat is messed with.
The wide variety of chameleons that inhabit the island are also on display. From a jeweled chameleon that buries its eggs in the soft dirt, to a chameleon that is so small it's dwarfed by the size of an ant. How they haven't already been squished out of existence is completely beyond my comprehension.
"Lost Worlds" visits the dense rainforests that cover the island. Ring-tailed lemurs are a main focus, as they bound across craggy limestone features in order to find cover from birds of prey. Watching their rock-climbing techniques is certainly awe-inspiring at times. The lemurs traverse sheer rock faces with ease, and by mastering this evolutionary defense tactic it keeps them safe from predators.
Finally, "Land of Heat and Dust" talks extensively about the dry region of the island that sits in a "rain shadow." All of the island's rain falls in the rainforest which comes before the mountains. The clouds dissipate once they run into the towering geology of Madagascar, creating a dry climate that is home to bulbously trunked trees and plants that effectively store what little water they can find. This is also where we see what the intrusion of humans has done to the habitat of Madagascar. BBC Earth implores us to think of the consequences, though doesn't offer any substantial solutions. Like many of the other documentaries they've done we get an understanding of the endangering taking place in the natural world, but we still aren't sure how to do our part and help out.
While 'Madagascar' may not be as exciting or enthralling as 'Life,' 'Planet Earth,' or 'Human Planet,' it has enough BBC Earth charm to still be an endearing documentary about the inhabitants of this one-of-a-kind island.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Madagascar' is a two-disc set provided by BBC Earth. It's packaged in a standard keepcase with hubs on the inside of the front and back covers. The episodes are housed on two BD50 Dual-layer discs and this set is region free.
For those of you that were hoping for another stellar video presentation from BBC Earth, I'm sorry to say, but you're not going to get it. 'Madagascar' pales in comparison to 'Planet Earth' or 'Life,' as this 1080i/VC-1 encoded picture is plagued with unsightly problems and blemishes throughout.
Compression issues hamper the image as noise spikes regularly, creating an ugly, murky affair. Blocking rears its ugly head more than once, making you think that you're watching a limited bandwidth cable broadcast instead of a Blu-ray. Detail is altogether hazy. Edges are left without clear-cut definition. There are times where the clarity that we've become accustomed to from BBC Earth shines through, but mainly the details here are soft and undefined. Fine hair blends together into bushels, while tiny scales are lost amongst the others instead of standing out on their own. Banding shows up on more than one occasion as well, marring the image further.
There is a bright side, however. The colors are decently rendered and at times draw your attention away from some of the more unsightly features of this video presentation. Greens are nice and lush and black levels are satisfactorily deep. But by BBC Earth standards, 'Madagascar' just doesn't reach as high as it could have.
The audio here is even more frustrating that the video. BBC Earth has let this Blu-ray out the door featuring a lossy Dolby Digital stereo mix that is, at its best, underwhelming.
The narration from Attenborough is clear, but that's about the extent of what this audio mix can do. Hoots and hollers from lemurs are muffled and confined. Other BBC Earth features gave us wonderful, engaging surround sound mixes that made us feel like we were smack-dab in the middle of the jungle. This one makes us feel like we're at the zoo watching these animals through a thick pane of plexiglass. It only adds insult to injury after mentioning how disappointing the video presentation is.
The insightful content and presentation is a trademark BBC Earth production. Attenborough's soothing narration guides us through another nature documentary that shows us worlds and animals that we didn't know existed. Nature fans will eat it up. I know I did. It's just a shame that BBC Earth really dropped the ball here considering how well their other Blu-rays have turned out. The video and audio for this two-disc release are such a letdown that it's hard to recommend this set, even though it really is an engaging documentary. I think we can chalk this one up to being a good flick on a bad disc.