Walking with Cavemen (2002)

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Released 26-Jun-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-On Location (5)
Interviews-Cast & Crew-3
Storyboard Comparisons-Sstoryboards to Animatics to Film (2)
Featurette-Animatics
Storyboards-2
Audio-Only Track-Original Score (9)
Notes-Fact Files
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 177:00 (Case: 185)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Richard Dale
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Professor Robert Winston
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Alan Parker


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This is the third series in the BBC's excellent Walking With documentary series, following on from the initial success of Walking With Dinosaurs in 1999 and the follow up Walking With Beasts in 2001. Both of the two predecessor series were extensively researched, uniquely written and presented to give a "real nature documentary" look and feel, and above all were handsomely produced using modern techniques. And so too is Walking With Cavemen.

    Perhaps one of the biggest problems facing the producers of this third Walking With series must have been viewer/concept fatigue, as I'm sure there would be many of you thinking that by the time we get to this third series we have perhaps seen it all before by now. You may even be tempted to pass this one up, thinking that the novelty is starting to wear off a bit and that this third series is probably just more of the same, cashing in on the well-earned reputations of the first two. I can happily report that this is far from the truth. This third series definitely meets the high expectations set by the first two and stands up on its own as a brilliant piece of documentary-making. In fact, as far as sequels go, I will admit that I found this series surpassed my expectations and I would even go as far as to say that I found Cavemen to be perhaps the most interesting and successful of all three Walking With concepts.

    Just like the previous two series, Walking With Cavemen achieves its objective of educating you at the same time as it entertains you. Just like the previous two series, this one will also shed much light and provide accurate insight into a period of the animal kingdom's evolution that was perhaps well known on the surface, but not well known in detail for most. And just like the previous two series, this one will go further and dispel some previously incorrect theories and misinformation along the way. But what makes Cavemen even more compelling than its predecessors is that this new series has the added bonus of shedding light on a specific period of the animal kingdom's evolution that is much more directly relevant and near and dear to our heart - the story of man. It not only presents the history of man in a dramatic fashion that can be more easily assimilated than other documentaries, but it explains exactly how and why it was that homo sapiens evolved from the apes, and explains through what specific species this evolution was to occur. (One interesting thing to note here is that the director of this series readily admits himself that "Walking With Cavemen" is in fact a bit of a misnomer of a title, as it will be shown that humans didn't actually start living in caves until towards the very end of the evolutionary process portrayed in this series.)

    It is interesting to note that this third series breaks away from the tradition of its two predecessors in several key respects, so helping to keep it fresh. Cavemen is not directed by Tim Haines, is not narrated by Kenneth Branagh and is not scored by Ben Bartlett. Of these, the most immediately obvious change lies in the different narration and presentation style. Whilst Kenneth Branagh did a distinctive job narrating the first two series, this time around the BBC turned to a veteran presenter, Professor Robert Winston, who is probably most famous for the BBC's brilliantly conceived documentary series The Human Body (1998). Those who saw and loved The Human Body will recall Professor Winston's gentlemanly and personable manner and his use of interesting metaphors as a means of describing hard scientific facts in a readily understandable way. It is perhaps no secret why the BBC turned to Professor Winston for Cavemen then, as given the more personal subject matter this time around they wanted someone who was capable of emphasising the human angle in this series, rather than a simple detached, scientific description of the events. Professor Winston is the perfect choice as presenter.

    Another key aspect where this series deviates from the Dinosaurs and Beasts concept is that it takes the previously adopted concept of 'travelling back in time' further. In Cavemen, the story is not just narrated by an unseen narrator all the time, but the presenter is actually on screen in front of us, as if describing a real life documentary. The presenter then hops into his Jeep, as if on his way across country to present a normal nature documentary, and then travels 'back' in time to 'observe' the action himself and present it to us as if he was actually there in front of the creatures of the day. The effect is sort of like a real-life David Attenborough documentary, but with a bit of extra levity thrown in!  Now this gimmick could have very easily backfired on the BBC and made Walking With Cavemen laughable - it was a big gamble. But thankfully this technique is not over-used and actually works quite well; so much so that after a while you do have to keep reminding yourself that you are not watching a real-life documentary.

    The four half-hour episodes in this series are:

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The BBC have delivered again. As with the previous two Walking With DVDs, this vide transfer is simply superb. Picking faults with it is being nit-picky indeed.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    All aspects of luminance in the transfer is exemplary, with only one minor and probably deliberate exception noted in a second. The transfer is razor sharp for virtually all scenes, with brilliantly detailed foreground/background resolution and shadow detail on display. The transfer is completely devoid of any noticeable grain or noise issues, with the only caveat to these comments being a couple of night-time/dusk scenes, in which grain is apparent. I note that this same comment was made in respect of the Walking With Beasts video transfer and it is repeated here. The grain in these night time scenes could well be just an issue of filming in low light with high speed film, however it appears to me as if this effect has in fact been intended by the series producer, in order to draw the viewer's attention to the fact that the scene has been shot in low light and so promote the "reality documentary" effect of the piece. Whenever these odd scenes do crop up, they stand in stark contrast to the scenes immediately before and after, and the effect of this is to jolt you into appreciating just how razor sharp the rest of the transfer really is. If anything, I also found this video transfer to be more natural looking than the Dinosaurs and Beasts transfers, and I'm sure this is in no small part due to the fact that the vast majority of the images in this series have been filmed in-camera. There is a lot less CGI used in this series than was needed in the previous series, as the principal subjects of Cavemen are all real actors in suits. Sure, there is CGI for other animals the apes interact with, but CGI is used a lot less here than in the previous series. Whereas the previous two series excelled for their use of CGI, this third series shines prominently for a seamless use of prosthetics, makeup and animatronics effects.

    Colour saturation cannot be faulted in this transfer at any point. There are solid blacks and well balanced colours across the entire spectrum, with colours at no time tending to over-saturation. Check out the oranges and greys on display in the close-ups of the Boisei creatures, for good example.

    I noted absolutely zero MPEG artefacts, film-to-video artefacts or film artefacts throughout. The one and only issue to note is what appears as a very strange and blocky digitised effect on screen for about one second at 8:42 during episode 2. However, judging by the artistic nature of this scene and what it leads up to (a POV falling to the ground very quickly), I'm positive that this is not a digitisation artefact at all, but simply an intended artful transition effect, as if a camera had been filming that POV and been damaged on hitting the ground.

    The only subtitle stream available is an English for the Hearing Impaired one. It is very clear, unobtrusive and entirely accurate.

    The disc is RSDL formatted, however no layer transition was noted and I am assuming that the layer change has been placed logically, between episodes 2 and 3.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    You couldn't ask any more from the audio transfer either. As before, we are presented with one track only, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix (at 192Kb/s). Again, whilst notionally billed as only a 2.0 mix, there is plenty of redirected surround activity imbedded in the track.

    Dialogue quality is clear and solid throughout, even when Professor Winston resorts to some quiet speak, so as not to "disturb the subjects" at various times. Audio sync is never problematic.

     The music score this time around is by Alan Parker and it is just as grand and bold as Ben Bartlett's previous efforts. The new score is stirring, appropriately themed and mixed in very well. The DVD's audio transfer delivers with a rich range - tight brass and bass and a warm mid-range.

    Make sure you have your Dolby Pro-Logic decoder turned on. There is ample redirected surround activity here, employed most effectively to provide good balance and impact for the score, as well as handle various surround sound ambience effects. A full 5.1 mix this isn't, but you certainly couldn't want for more for a documentary.

     The subwoofer gets moderate use for redirected bottom-end effects, like the obligatory thunder clap, bass in the music and various animal growls and grunts.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    We don't get the 50-minute detailed making-of documentary extra this time, but we do get a series of comprehensive interview featurettes that combined give a similar level of insight into the making of this series. Even minus the fillers, the extras package on this disc stacks up well.

Menu

    As you would expect from the previous two releases, the menus on this disc are well themed and come replete with 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced video, Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, and most screens with animation and audio underscore. They are also easy and intuitive to navigate. You can't ask for any more from your menus.

    Other than the exception of the first extra detailed below, all the extras on this disc come in 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced video and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (non-surround this time). The quality of all these extras is high, with crisp, clean and well coloured video and clear audio.

"On Location" Crew Interview Featurettes (5)

    This is the only extra presented in a 1.33:1 video aspect ratio. Still, the quality is great and the 1.33 aspect ratio is no real loss for these short featurettes. The featurettes are interview snippets with key members of the production team, being, in order Series Producer (2:26), Movement Director (7:09), Physical Effects (2:20), Actor (2:46) and Lunch With The Boisei (1:57). All are brief and interesting snippets, but it is the next extra that provides the more valuable insight.

Production Interview Featurettes (3)

    These are more serious interview snippets with the crew most responsible for the conceptualisation and realisation of the series. The interviews are:

Storyboard to Animatics to Film Comparison (2 scenes)

    This is a real time run-through of two separate scenes, each played with the screen split into three sections, so you can watch simultaneously how the scenes were realised from original rough storyboards to acting around the rough animatics to the final rendered scene with the completed animatics. This type of real-time run through works well and is probably the best way to show this type of extra, I think. A small complaint is that it would have been a bit more effective if the second split showed the actors acting around an empty space, i.e. prior to any rough animatics being added, as you get to see the final finished effect with the animatics in the third screen split anyway. Still, the three-screen split presents well.

Animatics (5:16)

    This extra is a filler. It is basically just a repeat of the previous extra, walking through the exact same two scenes, but this time just concentrating on the second screen split (the actors acting around rough animatics). Interesting, but repetitive.

Storyboards

    Another filler. Another run-through of the same two scenes just discussed, this time showing the storyboards in isolation. Do we really need to see this again when we've already seen it? I don't think so. A completely useless inclusion as a separate extra, given it was covered above.

Original Score (9 segments)

    This extras menu gives you the option to listen to 9 separate segments of isolated music score. A great extras inclusion, but as each score extract is relatively short, the obvious thing missed here is a "play all" option.

Fact Files (20 text pages)

    A great extra, as was included for the other two DVDs in the Walking With series. The information provided in these text pages is, as you would expect, well researched and written and so provides a great educational tool to recap or jump straight to the relevant facts on any of the particular species covered.

Photo Gallery (35 shots)

    These stills are provided with captions and are relatively interesting.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title is available in identical format and with the same extras in both Region 1 and Region 2. I would opt for Region 4 for price and for the superior PAL resolution.

Summary

    Walking With Cavemen surpassed my expectations. From a technical point of view, you simply must see it for its seamless use of prosthetics, makeup and animatronics. From its educational perspective, you simply must see it for its ability to present information and shed much light on a topic that is of interest to us all - and do so more enjoyably and effectively than any other documentary on the topic before. Finally, if you own or have seen Walking With Dinosaurs and Walking With Beasts, then you simply must see it to see how the original concept has been taken further in this next chapter.

    Razor sharp video, great audio and comprehensive extras round off the disc. Nice work again, BBC.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Thursday, June 26, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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