Upon reading the title 'Titanoboa,' one could easily assume that this is a Roger Corman-style Syfy original movie about a giant snake terrorizing some small hick swamp town. The let-down of anyone excited to see that movie is going to be great once he/she starts watching 'Titanoboa.' What we are given is the complete opposite.
I'm a sucker for science-based educational programs. Series like PBS's 'Nova' are always a worthy option when I'm all caught up on my previously recorded programming. I am unfamiliar with Smithsonian series, so I had no idea that they funded and produced such content – but theirs is just as good as 'Nova' or any other series like it.
Deep in the heart of Colombia lies an above ground mining quarry known as Cerrejón (Spanish for "Huge Hill"). This mine is so big that it could fit 8,000 American football fields within it. In December 2002, scientists from the University of Florida were invited to do research on a large section of the mines containing fossilized bones. What they found there was evidence of the very first rainforest and the gigantic beasts that inhabited it. The first and most important of those fossils seemed to be the vertebrae of an abnormally large alligator, but upon showing it to the right experts, they all agreed on one thing – this vertebrae belonged to the previously undiscovered largest snake to have ever slithered along the Earth's surface. What soon became known as "titanoboa," this now-extinct snake stretched 48-feet long and weighed a whopping 2,500 pounds. The best example from the film used to explain the snake's girth noted that titanoboa would have had to squeeze to get through a standard door jamb. Could you imagine running from one of these in a humid rainforest?
What makes 'Titanoboa' a bit better than most documentary shows like this is the fact that the Smithsonian Institute was made aware of the discovery shortly after it happened. They came on-board early-on and let the cameras roll as our team of scientists began to research, dig, and piece together how such a large snake could go undiscovered for so long. This isn't the type of documentary that explains everything after-the-fact via interviews and dramatization – no, this one brings you along for the ride, allowing you to learn what the scientists learn at the exact same moment that it comes to light.
To learn more about snakes and piece together the missing links between titanoboa and those found on Earth today, we are taken around the globe on a mission that reveals more about snake life than most non-snake enthusiasts may know. We search the everglades for Burmese pythons, see a scientist get his leg cut open by a snake's razor sharp teeth (a few of which are left embedded in his skin as souvenirs) and we dig for an intact titanoboa skull. We even get to watch a sushi chef chop and dissect an anaconda – the largest living snake currently found on the globe.
The facts discovered are amazing. What did titanoboa eat? How did it hunt? Where did it live? How strong was it? How did it kill its prey? How did they carry their eggs? How big were their offspring? How did it get so big? All of these questions and more are answered here – but don't expect me to rattle off these spoilers. This is the payoff for watching 'Titanoboa.'
I'm no scientist, but I sure enjoy watching professionals get geeky about this kind of stuff. The geeky movie-lover inside me can connect with the same passion that these scientist emit while making these discoveries. Their love of the science shows and their excitement is contagious, making you just as pumped about this discovery as they are. If you love science-based shows, there's no reason why you won't love 'Titanoboa.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Titanoboa' hits Blu-ray on a BD-25 in a standard blue keepcase. The cover artwork of an attacking snake is generic and could have been done a lot better. A nice thing about the design of the Blu-ray is that it features very little content before the main menu – an FBI warning and an Inception Media Group vanity reel, neither of which can be skipped over.
For the most part, the 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 of 'Titanoboa' is strong. Had it not been for compression issues, then this disc very well could have ended up in the four-and-half-star range.
As crisp, sharp and detailed as the show may be, one can't help but notice the high amounts of compression flaws. Aliasing is almost always present. Many of the computer animated sequences showing how titanoboa may have looked while alive feature strong bands. While there aren't any instances of artifacts and digital noise, a few instances of slight black crushing can be seen.
Aside from that, the video is quite strong. Sleek scaly textures can be seen on the living snakes shown. Sushi Snake's insides are colorfully gross. Swamp-hunting for anacondas reveal some of the most beautiful shades of green. Digital noise reduction and edge enhancement aren't applied. If only the evidence of poor compression wasn't so strong.
The only audio option on the entire disc is a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track – but it's so tame that it may as well be a two-channel stereo track.
There isn't a single moment in this entire 92-minute program that grabs your attention and makes you think, 'Wow. That sounded great.' Mind you, it's a documentary about fossils, so it probably wouldn't warrant much in the way of noteworthy sound – but that's no excuse for the mild audio during the animated snake sequences, some of which even include animal attacks, swimming and other instances that could have very easily employed strong imaging effects.
Even thought this track will never "wow" you, it will also never leave you unable to hear what you're meant to hear. The vocals are always clear and audible – even when captured in natural environments such as the wind-blasted rocky face of the Cerrejón mine, the musty Florida everglades and the terrifying anaconda swamps. You will hear everything that you're meant to, but it would have been nice to have even more to listen to.
There isn't a single special feature on this disc.
If you like science documentaries as much as I do, then you're going to thoroughly enjoy 'Titanoboa.' It not only features the intriguing educational aspect, but it takes you through the discovery with those finding it. In essence, you become one of the scientists uncovering the the buried facts about the largest known snake to ever have lived on Earth. The genuine geeky enthusiasm that radiates from our scientific team is contagious, adding another strong level of interest to this documentary. Compression flaws riddle the video quality, the lackluster audio is a let-down and there isn't a single special feature to be found, but 'Titanoboa' is still a neat and adventurous documentary for anyone who enjoys science and nature.