Studio: Discovery Channel/Genius Entertainment
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 40 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby 5.1 and English Stereo 2.0
Review Date: April 27, 2009
*Note: Africa's Elephant Kingdom was originally shown in IMAX theaters in 3D
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Resplendent and magnificent, elephants are the largest animals on land and are among the most gentle and familial of all. Released in IMAX theaters in 1999, Africa’s Elephant Kingdom follows a strong clan, led by the matriarch, as is their way. The cameras follow this particular clan as they make the annual trek to the mountains in Kenya, walking miles upon miles in preparation and expectation of the rains and triggered flooding of the vast plains, enriching the land and breathing life into the dusty vastness. This mini-documentary of this elephant family was filmed with the assistance of veteran zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a top expert on elephants and reveals with some intimate moments, their ways.
It begins with the birth of an elephant calf, named Little Bull – born blind but able to support the enormous weight of the creature on his first day. After weeks of leisurely play, Little Bull, his newborn cousin and the clan of over 40 elephant’s begin their journey. In the year the film crew follows them across the dry lands, the clan experience harsher than normal weathers as the rains fail to arrive when they were due and the elephants struggle on. And the crew captures some beautiful images of these animals caring, nurturing and shielding one another. The scenes showing the lead elephant charging the camera crew to frighten them off, aggressively posturing to protect the clan, are really quite tense.
Avery Brooks does a wonderful job narrating the journey of Little Bull and the family of elephants, truly a standout element of this short film. What is missing from this experience, however, is a grander sense of the journey. The crew followed these fascinating creatures for a full year, and we witness some incredibly moving moments, such as the communal grief and support expressed when the harsh conditions of arid landscape, exhausting heat and rains that are past due, take their toll and a young calf dies. Seeing the mother, and others, try to get the deceased elephant to stand and continue is quite heartbreaking. But we do not see enough of their lives through this incredible journey they make year after year. We see hints and glimpses of their overall lives, but just not enough or not in enough detail; for these are without a doubt some of the most glorious of all creatures on this planet - and this tale seems to not give us all that we would want to see of them. At 40 minutes, the wonder of their journey is over as soon as it begins and for following them for a year, what we see here does not capture enough.
I would have been satisfied if their story had been expanded upon in a ‘making of’ or other featurette, the kind that is supplied with the beautiful IMAX films released on Blu-ray from the MacGillivray-Freeman company. The special features on their Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, Hurricane on the Bayou or Mystery of the Nile Blu-ray’s (among others) round out the experience and continue to educate and impress on the subject matter in a way that would have served this film well.
This blu-ray comes with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and is quite good. The center channel with Avery Brooks’ narration is very clear. The soundtrack comes alive in the surrounds with lovely music and the fronts carry the major elephant sounds and more. As the elephants snarl and charge, the subwoofer steps in and has an opportunity to shake things up. A good, solid audio.
A missed opportunity to celebrate what is a pretty good film with a few meaningful extras is presented with okay video and reasonably good audio. In this state, this isn’t really the best value proposition. Fans of the film will be glad to have it in high definition and admirers of elephants will find plenty to enjoy about the story, but perhaps renting rather than purchasing is the way to go.