I'm a sucker for animal documentaries, especially the ones that tell heartwarming stories about animals that seem down on their luck. Heavens, I can't even watch the trailer for Disney's 'Chimpanzee' without loudly admitting to my wife, "I can't see that movie. I'll be a blubbering mess." So, when I stuck in 'Born to Be Wild' and immediately found out that it was about two different groups of orphaned animals (elephants and orangutans) I broke out the tissues and turned in my Man Card.
Thank goodness that the IMAX-produced 'Born to Be Wild' is only a brisk 41 minutes long. I don't think I could've handled a feature-length film about cute baby animals being orphaned.
'Born to Be Wild' opens with narration from The Narrator himself, Morgan Freeman. His calm, reassuring voice sets up the two stories. In the Kenyan savannah Dr. Daphne M. Sheldrick has made it her life's goal to take in orphaned elephants, whose parents have usually been killed by poachers, and take care of them until they're old enough to go back out into the wild. Then we cruise across the Indian Ocean to Borneo where Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas has her own animal reserve. Here Dr. Galdikas takes care of orphaned orangutans. Just like the elephant reserve in Kenya, Dr. Galdikas' goal is to be able to care for the abandoned orangutans until they are old enough, and healthy enough, to be reintroduced to the wild rainforest from whence they came.
Right from the start this is a pretty straightforward documentary, full of stunning IMAX visuals. We get to see the process of Dr. Sheldrick and her group of elephant keepers. How the keepers work one on one with the elephants, acting as a surrogate mother. They feed them a specially devised milk concoction, they take the elephants out to play with them and they even sleep with the elephants at night. Elephants are social creatures and without the warmth and affection of a mother-like figure they get depressed and become unhealthy, or even die. The keepers are with the elephants 24 hours a day seven days a week until they are old enough to be assimilated back into the wild.
Same goes for the group of parentless orangutans in Borneo. Dr. Galdikas has a group of highly-trained keepers who care for the apes, raising them from infancy to adulthood and then finally seeing them off to make their own way in the world.
If you are like me, and you're a sucker for these kinds of stories then 'Born to Be Wild' is the kind of animal-centric documentary you're looking for. Shots of the baby orangutans ooze sweetness as they peer into the camera with their saucer-like brownish-black eyes. You get to see once timid elephants who have just recently lost their mothers to poachers, become integrated back into a group of their own peers. They begin to trust humans again even though humans were the ones that split their family apart in the first place. Oh, and there's nothing cuter than a herd of elephants running around together kicking soccer balls.
Some people can't get enough Nicholas Sparks movies; I can't get enough cute animal documentaries. I know at times they can be corny and overly sentimental, but there's no denying the affect a baby orangutan can have on even the most stubborn people. Just know that this review is written by someone who unabashedly loves this type of stuff, but at least you know what you're getting into if you decide to give it a try.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Warner Bros. Combo Pack release. It's a 2-Disc set. The first disc is the 50GB Blu-ray and the other is the DVD copy of the movie. There is also a code provided for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. They come packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase and a cardboard slipcover with the same artwork as the case cover. This release is region free.
Filmed specifically for IMAX using a mix of 65mm film and IMAX 4K Digital cameras I must say that this movie looks stupendous on the small screen. I can only imagine what it looked like on a proper IMAX screen. It really must have been a sight to behold.
The IMAX crew captures the surrounding natural environment with perfectly framed shots. The camera slowly pans over rainforests and savannahs taking in every square inch of detail. Colors are as bright and as vivid as you'll ever see them. You'll notice, straight away, the insane amount of detail that is visible here. Tiny orangutan hairs are individually visible; each wrinkle and crease in the young elephant trunks and skin is perfectly noticeable; wood grain on tree bark and even small puffs of sand and dirt are easily perceptible. The detail exhibited here is quite extraordinary.
Edges are perfectly sharp and refined. I was amazed at how well the forest leaves were rendered. Hundreds of thousands of leaves and you can distinctly see each and every one. None of the greenery ever blends together, giving you the coveted "It's like I'm there" feeling.
As for artifacts, I didn't notice any. There was a tiny bit of shimmering in the forest during one of the slow pans from the forest canopy to the ground, but nothing that should really affect the score, especially when everything else is so amazingly good looking. Crushing has a negligible effect on some scenes, but again, it really is completely unnoticeable unless you've got your eyes peeled for it. The rest of the movie is filled with IMAX-filmed visuals that look stunning on the small screen. It's demo-worthy for sure.
'Born to Be Wild' is given an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound experience. Whether it be the arid plains of Kenya or the wet rainforests of Borneo, Warner's lossless track is something to behold. Like a good nature documentary should, the sound provides an engrossing aspect that makes you feel like you're surrounded by the wildlife in the movie.
Rear speakers are filled with ambient sound. Elephants bellow and orangutans hoot as their distinct sounds fill the sound field. Bugs and birds of the Borneo rainforest add some nice, rainforest atmosphere to the proceedings. Panning effects work wonders, like when a group of elephants hoofs it from one edge of the frame to the other as they play kick the ball with their handlers. Their rumbling stomps travel easily through the front and center channels all the while accompanied by some nicely resonating bass. At times the rear speakers seem like they are trying a bit too hard though. There are times where sound is piped to the rear speakers when it doesn't need to be. There are a couple times in the movie where the only action taking place is right in front of us, but for some reason the same sound is being piped all around the soundstage.
That little hiccup aside, this is an engaging and thoughtful audio experience that makes you feel like you're right there with these wonderful people trying to help nurse abandoned animals back to health.
There are six webisodes included here as the only extras on the disc. The webisodes are simply very short videos on certain aspects of the movie and that's it. They are, "Borneo," "Kenya," "Camp Leakey," "Coming Home to Tsavo," "'Wild' Filmmaking," and "Caregivers."
Congratulations Warner, you found my soft spot. I can't say no to a movie about helping baby animals. It may be overly happy at times, it may eschew any sort of onscreen horrors of the natural world (like the predators lying in wait), but it still gets to me. With demo-worthy video and near-perfect audio this is a great Blu-ray release. The list price seems very steep for a 41 minute movie, which may be a sticking point for a lot of people. Although, people like me won't be able to deny those big, loving monkey eyes on the front cover. From one animal lover to the rest of you, this comes recommended.