I'm all for nature documentaries in high-definition. I could rewatch the BBC series of nature docs over and over without them ever getting old. Partly because they're stunningly beautiful, and partly because they have interesting and effective stories to tell about the world around us. 'Yosemite: The High Sierras' is part of the National Parks Exploration Series. It's less like 'Planet Earth' and more like those movies your geography teacher made you watch at the tail-end of the school year because she didn't want to plan any more lessons before classes let out for the summer.
'Yosemite' is presented in a very educational manner. Park rangers, authors, and nature experts are brought in to share their wisdom about one of America's most unique landscapes. They talk about how the famous exposed granite cliffs came into existence, the volcanic activity of the region, and about the different famous landmarks – like Half Dome and Yosemite Falls – you'll see on your way. They discuss the history of the park and how one John Muir helped convince President Theodor Roosevelt to start up the National Parks service, starting with Yosemite.
The presentation is broken up into a few different sections like "History," "Ecosystems," and "The Parks." In a very matter-of-fact way rangers and historians explain the history behind the park, it's different structures and what people can expect to see when they visit the park. Much of the 70 minute film seems like an extended commercial in order to draw tourists in. The information dispelled is interesting the first time around, although I can't really see this being watched over and over if someone did indeed pick it up at the store.
It's difficult to review something like this when it does indeed achieve its objective. What I can say is that I just don't think this is really suitable for a home viewing audience.
A little while ago I reviewed 'Wallace & Gromit's World of Invention' and commented that the show, while somewhat fun, seemed more like it was created for exhibition in a classroom environment instead of home viewing. That's how 'Yosemite' feels. It's not that there is anything wrong with it, but it's a very straight-forward look at the Yosemite National Park with very little in the way of the entertaining drama that's injected into many of the BBC nature docs. 'Yosemite' feels like something you might see playing on an endless loop at the park's visitor center.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Mill Creek Entertainment release. It comes in a standard size Blu-ray keepcase. It comes on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. It's a Region A release.
'Yosemite' is presented in 1080i. It exhibits some breathtaking scenery shots as the camera slowly pans over the beauty and wonder of the valleys of Yosemite National Park. Well-lit scenes look great. Trees, shrubbery, and mountains feature distinct colors and lines. Lush greens, granite grays, and earthy browns all shine whenever the sun is out and shining. Squirrels scurry, and black bears roam the fields with definable individual hairs. The real problem with the transfer comes in the numerous cave scenes. Any time we head inside a cave to see the grandeur that's in store, the presentation soon becomes muddled featuring flat, dimensionless blacks harboring a whole load of errant digital noise. It's extremely distracting from one's viewing pleasure, especially after witnessing such a life-like video presentation outside of the caves.
We're only offered a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track here. Since there is little in the way of any actual places where audio could really shine I guess it isn't as bad as it could be. Still, this is a weak track at best. The narration is easy to hear, but the interview dialogue varies in success as to being intelligible. There isn't any ambient sound to speak of really. The front speakers pick up chirping birds, but they would've done more for the movie had they been given a surround track in which to chirp in. As of now, with everything coming out of the two front speakers, the mix is muddled and flat.
There are no special features included.
I don't really know why you would purchase this for your own collection. Teachers may want to give this movie a try and show it to a class full of students learning about the nation's national parks. With middling video and depressing audio, it's hard to even recommend this doc simply on its technical merits. It's simply more fit for an educational environment rather than providing home entertainment. If you're not a teacher, Ken Burns' series is probably the way to go for this one.