"The Beauty of Snakes, The World’s Biggest and Baddest Bugs, & Africa’s Elephant Kingdom" Blu-ray Reviews
April 08, 2009 by Zach Demeter
Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have and always will be some of the prime sources of both informative and entertaining television. It’s where that guy at work randomly comes up with tidbits about trapdoor spiders and the habits of elephants, as well as what the latest antics the Mythbusters have been up to. Those with high-definition TV sets know that Discovery Channel and Animal Planet also boast some of the most beautiful programming in high-definition and now, with the help of Genius Entertainment, those who leave their TV on just to see a snake in high-definition slither on by can now leave that entertainment going 24/7 with the release of three of Animal Planet’s recent documentaries: The Beauty of Snakes, The World’s Biggest and Baddest Bugs, and Africa’s Elephant Kingdom.
Synopsis - The Beauty of Snakes
Explore one of nature's most beautiful and mysterious creatures. From the desert horned viper to the tiny thread snake, these reptiles have never been showcased in such detail for their vibrant colors and sleek movements. Visit a number of unusual species throughout the globe as this special brings these exotic snakes to light. Despite their fearsome reputation, these fascinating specimens will prove that they are more than deadly, dangerous predators. The Beauty of Snakes will take you into the wild to celebrate the most intriguing snakes around the world.
The Beauty of Snakes is one of the shorter documentaries out of the bunch, but it’s also the first that sets you up for a sometimes collection of creepy images, depending on your phobias. It’s really a great little documentary as it showcases not only the snakes that are some of the most dangerous in the world such as the aforementioned vipers, but also just your garden variety that you may find crawling around your…well, garden.
Really, it depends on your fascination with the subject in terms of whether or not you’ll enjoy every minute of this documentary, but it’s really a great little documentary that is not only a brief little history lesson on the species itself but also a fantastical visual library. The footage contained on the documentary alone is worth checking out.
The Beauty of Snakes arrives in an AVC encoded 1.78:1 1080p video transfer that, even if you watched on Animal Planet HD, is still leagues above what was broadcast. The problem with cable is that providers can sometimes choke the HD channels compression down so low that it is sometimes simply too blocky and ugly to watch. But with this Blu-ray, we don’t have any of those problems and the documentary comes through in full 1080p clarity and it looks absolutely terrific. Coupled with the DD5.1 audio that brings hissing in the surrounds (of the snake variety, not audio noise), the presentation of the special on Blu-ray is nothing short of brilliant. While not reference quality in terms of audio, the video is quite impressive. There is nothing else on these discs aside from the documentary itself, so there are no extras or other goodies to check out.
Synopsis - The World’s Biggest and Baddest Bugs
Join entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste on a journey to uncover the scariest and creepiest insects of the natural world. Ruud gets up close and personal with these fearless creatures unlike anyone has done before. From covering himself with killer bees to tolerating bullet ant stings, these jaw-dropping stunts illustrate just how crazy and passionate Ruud can be when it comes to examining these mighty marvels. Surround yourself with bugs of all shapes and sizes in this special, and witness just how large these insects really become.
Well here’s where that phobia I talked about with snakes kicks in for me. I have a huge fear of spiders and watching those and other arachnids crawl around on the screen was nothing short of…well, shiver inducing. Just thinking about the ugly little guys crawling around sends tingles down my spine and as if that wasn’t enough, the documentary is nearly an hour and a half long (the longest of the three reviewed here). It is, at sometimes, a very uncomfortable to watch documentary, but at the same time it’s hard to tear your eyes away from it. Not to mention the shiny gloss of a scorpion or hair of a tarantula in full HD is so crystal clear, you feel it’s a disservice to the Blu-ray format to look away.
Still, even through the creepy crawlies, lies a very fascinating (once again, who would’ve guessed?) documentary. It’s also interesting to see host Ruud repeatedly put himself in situations that would make any normal person wet their pants…and to just see him do it over and over again is mind boggling. The synopsis above denotes bullet ant and killer bees, but that’s only a small portion of what this documentary covers.
Like the Snakes release, this is strictly documentary only. But with it also sporting its own 1080p 1.78:1 AVC encoded transfer, the documentary is absolutely brilliant to watch. Detail is high and, again, to watch these without cable compression opens a whole other layer of clarity to it all. While internet in the U.S. isn’t up to 1080p standards with high bitrates, the Blu-ray format thankfully has our back for the time being in bringing us this truly astonishing video. The DD5.1 track is a little underwhelming, as we only hear the occasional insect sound in the surrounds, but it’s still a great listen nonetheless.
Synopsis – Africa’s Elephant Kingdom
Become part of a close-knit family of African elephants in this moving chronicle of life among these powerful, socially sophisticated animals. Filmed with the assistance of veteran zoologist and leading elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the intimate daily lives of elephants are glimpsed through the eyes of a wise, old bull (voiced by Avery Brooks). On-location in Africa’s spectacular wilds, you’ll witness breathtaking encounters with deadly predators and the ferocious drama of young males battling for dominance. Experience the thrill of an enraged matriarch’s heart-stopping charge and the near-human behavior of herd members consoling a grief-stricken mother mourning her lost calf. Then, embark with your elephant family on a desperate cross-country migration, with the herd’s survival hanging in the balance.
Sadly this is the shortest of the three releases, but it is also one of the most enveloping. Partly due to the film originally being shot for large-screen IMAX, but the scale of this documentary is just a lost more “epic” in nature. This is also due to the setting being on-location in Africa, which just makes it all that more majestic to watch. After watching a bunch of snakes and bugs on the screen, it’s almost a relief to see something larger than life on the screen, with an absolute breathtaking set of visuals to accompany it.
It’s hard to say which of the three were my favorite documentary, but the elephants were definitely the most intriguing. Though the shortest, the documentary was spent entirely on the elephants themselves, rather than stretching it out across multiple varieties of the same species. It had a tighter focus and because of that it was easier to get wrapped up in the pack nature and just how resilient and smart elephants really are.
As with the previous two documentaries, this one too arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case and a 1080p 1.33:1 AVC encoded transfer that is absolutely astonishing. Seeing Africa in person is just about the only thing that will get you closer to it in terms of clarity than this 1080p transfer, as it is absolutely flawless in nature. Spectacular looking from beginning to end, the documentary will definitely take your breath away. The DD5.1 audio is mostly made up of the typical surround murmurs of rustling wind and the occasional pachyderm sound, but overall it’s a fantastic mix through and through. Unfortunately the full frame video detracts from the experience quite a bit.
It’s amazing that after watching three documentaries on subjects that I learned about over a decade ago, I can still get that excited and invested in the programming. Snakes, spiders, elephants…they’re all things we’ve known about since we were four or five, yet Animal Planet continues to bring us further information on them and while it was forced down our throats when were younger as part of our curriculum, watching them at my leisure in adulthood is really just a wonderful experience. I can only imagine being in school now and having these type of documentaries readily available. Oh and watching them in Blu-ray too? Absolutely fantastic. All three of these documentaries come Recommended.
The Beauty of Snakes, The World’s Biggest and Baddest Bugs, & Africa’s Elephant Kingdom are all now available on Blu-ray.