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Blu-ray Review Frozen Planet Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Cameron Yee

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The award-winning BBC Natural History Unit serves up another awe-inspiring documentary series with “Frozen Planet,” a journey through Earth’s polar regions over the course of four seasons. The Blu-ray features a fine audio and video presentation, as well as an in-depth set of special features, making for a release sure to please fans of both nature documentaries and the work of the cutting edge British filmmaking team.



Frozen Planet
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
Year: 2011
Rating: NR
Running Time: Approximately seven hours
MSRP: $54.99

  THE FEATURE EXTRAS
Video AVC: 1080p high definition 1.78:1 Standard and high definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1, French 2.0, Isolated Score 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles English, French, Spanish Same


The Series: 4.5/5
The BBC Natural History Unit (NHU), the documentary production house responsible for the award-winning “Planet Earth” program that aired in 2006, delivers another spectacular series dedicated to exploring and presenting the planet’s profound environmental beauty. With “Frozen Planet,” film crews brave the sub-zero conditions of the Arctic and Antarctic to reveal, through consistently awe-inspiring visuals, the wildlife and plant life that call such brutal places their home. At times the program could be dismissed as environmental eye candy with its sweeping vistas, slow motion tracking shots, and time lapse sequences, but the writers maintain a strong narrative thread throughout, centered around quintessential cold weather wildlife like bears, penguins, and whales. Renowned naturalist David Attenborough also reprises his role as on-location host and narrator, work made all the more impressive considering the man’s 80-plus years.

As with “Planet Earth,” much of the series’ environmental message is stated indirectly. By capturing nature’s intense beauty even in the most frigid and apparently lifeless locales, a case is made for conservation and preservation. However, “Frozen Planet’s” seventh episode features a much more pointed message about humanity’s role in global warming and climate change, a subject still under debate in many countries, the United States being one of them.

The issue is apparently so touchy, the BBC made the seventh episode merely optional for those markets interested in syndicating the series. Indeed, the Discovery Channel, the cable network currently airing an Alec Baldwin-narrated version of the program, initially cited “scheduling reasons” for the omission of the final episode. However an online petition with over 84,000 signatures led to an apparent change of heart, and the network announced the seventh episode would close out the series after all (scheduled to air April 22nd). Whether audiences will actually find it so controversial is yet to be determined, but I suspect the initial concern will prove to be a lot of hand wringing over nothing.

“Frozen Planet” on Blu-ray includes the seven episodes that originally aired on the BBC between October 26 and December 28, 2011. Each episode includes a 10-minute behind-the-scenes “Freeze Frame” segment that shows how some of the amazing footage was captured, oftentimes under incredibly adverse weather conditions.

Episode One: To the Ends of the Earth (58:35): Despite the harsh environment, the Arctic and Antarctic are home to a number of creatures, from polar bears in the north to penguins in the south. Geological features and regular freezing and melting also make for profoundly beautiful, but dangerous, conditions.


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment highlights the four separate film crews tasked to capture the external and internal features of an active, Antarctic volcano.


Episode Two: Spring (57:41): Springtime in the poles can still be quite volatile and unpredictable, as increasing amounts of daylight and a rise in temperatures lead to more drastic changes in the weather. Still, animals that manage to tough it out are rewarded with a bountiful food supply and opportunities for interacting with each other in an increasingly lush environment.


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment profiles the pair of cameramen who endured four months in the Antarctic, which involved some particularly nasty storms, to capture penguin activity and behavior.


Episode Three: Summer (58:36): With summer in full bloom, wildlife spend all their time and energy raising their young to ensure they will survive the inevitable return of winter.


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment describes the marine-based camera techniques used to capture the many up-close polar bear and killer whale shots. Film crews employed the same aerial camera system they used on helicopters and airplanes, adapting it for use on boats and dinghies.


Episode Four: Autumn (57:38): With the summer sunlight waning, vegetation changes color, water begins to freeze, and wildlife make the necessary preparations for the coming winter.


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment highlights the month-long effort to capture Emperor Penguins exiting the sea using a special digital, slow motion camera.


Episode Five: Winter (57:28): With summer officially over, winter sets in hard, subjecting the remaining polar wildlife to even more extreme temperatures and weather. Despite the brutal conditions, life goes on and beauty can still be found in the most unforgiving of environments.


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment highlights the work in capturing critical interaction between bison and wolves in northern Canada, and the profound life and death spectacle the filmmakers ultimately encountered.


Episode Six: The Last Frontier (57:42): Having focused most of its attention on polar wildlife, the program turns its cameras on the remarkable humans who call the inhospitable regions in the Arctic and Antarctic their home (at least part of the year in some cases).


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment documents the filmmakers’ experience following Siberian hunters in Chukotka Russia, and the incredible respect they developed for the people who successfully live off the land despite its unwelcoming conditions.


Episode Seven: On Thin Ice (57:49): Attenborough travels throughout the polar regions looking at evidence of global warming and its effect on the polar ice caps. What he observes and learns from researchers suggests an ominous future for the planet within just a few decades time.


The 10-minute “Freeze Frame” segment looks at the challenge of capturing a massive – but somewhat unpredictable – ice thaw on the Hay River in northern Canada.


Video Quality: 4.5/5
Framed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer features great black levels and spot-on contrast – impressive considering the often stark, high contrast environments of the polar regions. Color is likewise amazing, with deep, saturated blues, clean whites and bold and stable reds. Fine object detail is decent, though too often subject to noise and moiré in wide and panoramic shots. Gradient areas also show occasional hints of banding or posterizing, though not enough to be considered distracting. Indeed, most will be too amazed by the visuals to really notice any minor issues in the transfer, though sticklers will ultimately want the presentation to match the NHU’s high caliber content.

Audio Quality: 4/5
Attenborough’s narration in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear, detailed and intelligible (though British pronunciation of words like “glacier” will likely give some viewers pause). Surround channels are most engaged during heavy storms and dramatic ocean events, though subtle environmental effects are present throughout and nicely balanced with the program’s evocative score. LFE is likewise used strategically for the most intense of situations, giving walrus battles, whale breachings and bison stampedes their requisite power.

Special Features: 4/5
The extras include a significant number of behind-the-scenes pieces that reveal the challenges and triumphs of producing the series, in addition to a special recap episode that originally aired at Christmastime. Though the material itself is first rate, a limited menu interface makes accessing it needlessly cumbersome.

Isolated Score: Watch the program sans narration, presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio.

Science at the End of the Earth (21:11, HD): The documentary takes a closer look at the purpose and operation of science research stations in Antarctica and the history of South Pole research and exploration.

Production Video Diaries: Originally produced for the BBC One website as supplements to the main broadcast, the diaries cover a wide variety of subjects, from the technical to the philosophical. The menu for the entries is lacking a “play all” option, unfortunately, which would have provided a more efficient way to view the pieces in sequence. The standard definition presentation also sticks out after several hours of rich HD material. Still, if users are patient enough to work through the menu interface, there’s a wealth of material to be had.

Episode One: To the Ends of the Earth

  • Capturing Antarctica from the Air (3:47, SD)
  • How to Track a Killer Whale (2:18, SD)
  • Birth of an Ice Monster (2:58, SD)
  • Filming in the Arctic’s Roughest Seas (1:53, SD)
  • When the Earth Moved for Frozen Planet (3:02, SD)
  • A Close Encounter of the Wolf Kind (1:31, SD)
  • Battling Black Grouse (2:23, SD)

Episode Two: Spring

  • Deep Into the Polar Bear’s Den (1:44, SD)
  • A Friendly Wolf (1:25, SD)
  • The Coolest Caterpillar in the World (1:57, SD)
  • King Penguins on Blubber Beach (1:43, SD)
  • The Barrenlands Come to Life (1:20, SD)
  • Amorous Albatross Mate for Life (1:04, SD)
  • Masses of the Macaroni (1:17, SD)
  • Erik the Wandering Albatross (1:48, SD)
  • Erika the Albatross (1:06, SD)
  • Satellite Tagging an Albatross (2:10, SD)

Episode Three: Summer

  • Fending Off the Fur Seals (1:45, SD)
  • Hide and Seek with the Wolf Cubs (1:13, SD)
  • Arctic Tern Attack (1:07, SD)
  • Elder Duck Drama (2:00, SD)
  • Stalked by a Polar Bear (1:59, SD)
  • Counting South Georgia’s Fur Seals (3:31, SD)
  • Surrounded by Fur Seals (1:48, SD)
  • King Penguins Catch a Wave (2:57, SD)
  • The Most Dangerous Toilet in South Georgia (:52, SD)

Episode Four: Autumn

  • Polar Bear Feast (1:34, SD)
  • Caribou Battle on the Barrenlands (1:26, SD)
  • Leopard Seal Encounter (1:03, SD)
  • A Beached Beluga Needs Help (2:03, SD)
  • A Penguin Swimming Lesson (1:51, SD)
  • Snow Geese on the Move (1:28, SD)
  • Beluga Back Scrub (1:59, SD)
  • Grass Eating Polar Bear (:53, SD)

Episode Five: Winter

  • Frozen Planet’s First Shoot (2:08, SD)
  • Seal of Approval (:50, SD)
  • A Polar Bear in the Backyard (:53, SD)

Episode Six: The Last Frontier

  • Life on Mars (2:31, SD)
  • The Quietest Place on Earth (1:35, SD)
  • Lift Off at the Inupiat Festival (2:07, SD)
  • The Day of the Reindeer (2:16, SD)
  • Moving the South Pole (1:39, SD)
  • Shackleton’s Legacy (3:10, SD)
  • Woolly Mammoth’s Ice Caves (3:06, SD)
  • The World’s Most Isolated Garden (1:21, SD)
  • Whaling (2:53, SD)


Frozen Planet: The Epic Journey (59:00, HD): The hour-long program tracking the events over a polar year, aired as a Christmas special on the BBC and consists of highlights from the series’ seven episodes. While a “clip show” inevitably means a sense of deja vu, such content re-edits tend to play pretty well to fans, who are open to just about any kind of re-visit of past material. While not required viewing, “Epic Journey” does effectively encapsulate the polar environment for anyone looking for a quicker viewing experience or reminder of what makes the primary series so intriguing.

Recap
The Series: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

BBC America delivers an impressive audio and video presentation for “Frozen Planet,” another spectacular production made possible by the BBC NHU. The special features include a wealth of behind-the-scenes material, though it’s hampered somewhat by a clunky menu interface for its most sizable segment, the production diaries. Still, the Blu-ray release is a worthwhile one for those thrilled by the NHU’s previous efforts and nature documentary fans in general.


 

Jason_V

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We very much enjoyed Planet Earth, which happened to be the first Blu-ray we ever watched on our then-new HD TV. Frozen Planet is going to be a must get fairly soon. Thanks Cameron!
 

Cameron Yee

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Does Discovery include the 10 minute "Freeze Frame" segments following each episode? If not, I suspect they have re-edited those pieces into a making of.
 

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