Platypus: World's Strangest Animal (2003)

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Released 1-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Audio
Featurette-Bobby and the Banded Stilts (28:11)
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 50:32 (Case: 80)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring David Parer
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Martin Friedel


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/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 Yes, during credits

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

Plot Synopsis

    When the existence of the platypus first became known in the Old World, it was widely considered to be a hoax. After all, how could the established scientific community take seriously an animal with the bill of a duck, webbed feet like a duck, a tail like a beaver and a venomous spur to rival more than a few snakes? Centuries on and the platypus remains almost as big a mystery as it did when it was first brought to the Old World. Indeed, considering that it is an egg-laying mammal, it even exceeds the mystery that it was two hundred odd years ago, for they did not know that it was in fact a monotreme. After all, exactly how many species making up the monotremes are there in the world?

    Well, precisely two - the platypus and its near relative the echidna. Not so funnily enough they both come from the same place on Earth...

    The platypus has long been the subject of much puzzlement and debate over the past two centuries. Whilst there is still a fair chunk that we do not understand about this most unusual creature, what we have found out certainly makes it a very strong contender for the strangest animal on Earth. Most of what we have discovered about the platypus has come fairly recently. Very difficult to breed in captivity, which severely restricted understanding, it has only been through the work of researchers like Nina Koch and film makers like David Parer that we have answered some of the mysteries about the animal, whilst also uncovering a few more. This documentary is the result of three years work by David Parer and the result is a terrific look into one of the most intriguing animals on the planet. The course of those three years has seen unprecedented footage shot and for virtually the first time we get to see some of the mysteries of platypus breeding revealed.

    With an informative and entertaining narrative, what we have here is almost a definitive encapsulation of current knowledge regarding the platypus and all its inherent weirdness and oddity. Thoroughly engaging and entertaining creatures that they are, they make a natural subject for an hour's piece of education and entertainment. This just about deserves a place in every Australian home, for it is doubtful that any but a privileged few researchers have ever gotten this familiar with the animal before. Given a transfer of fine quality, this is a terrific release.

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Transfer Quality

Video

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

    Apart from some of the night time footage and the odd lapse here and there, most especially on long shots, this is a wonderfully sharp transfer. Detail just jumps out of nearly every frame, most especially the infra-red shot footage shot in the platypus nesting burrow. Obviously the nature of the programme demands exceptional detail and that is what is delivered. Clarity is almost as crystal clear as some of those pristine Tasmanian rivers and creeks, with only a few instances of grain to impede the whole presentation, such as at 22:03, 40:17 and 49:15. Even the grain is unavoidable really - it mostly occurs during footage shot during low light conditions and on miniature cameras. This really is a very, very good transfer.

    The colours are beautifully handled and the transfer is really very vibrant most of the time. The only time there is any drop off in quality is during some of the footage shot during dusk and evening - which is hardly surprising really. Tonally this is just about spot on throughout and the saturation is terrific, yet never veers towards over saturation. I have rarely seen such general quality in documentary material. Even the monochrome footage shot using an infra-red camera has a wonderful look to it.

    The transfer is free of any obvious MPEG artefacts. There were equally no obvious film-to-video artefacts in the transfer either. As for film artefacts? Forget them too.

    This is a single layered, single sided DVD, so there is no layer change to be worried about.

    There is just the single subtitle option on the DVD, being an English for the Hearing Impaired effort. There is nothing wrong with them, although it would have been nice to have just plain English efforts too.

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

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, and it is an excellent English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort.

    The dialogue generally comes up well in the soundtrack, as does the narration. Even more importantly, the natural ambient sound also comes through very clearly. There are no obvious issues with audio sync in the transfer.

    The quite excellent musical accompaniment to the documentary comes from Martin Friedel. The accompaniment really adds enormously to the show, with just the right sort of mood evoked by the exceptional use of instruments like the harp, hammer dulcimer and oboe. I enjoyed the music almost as much as the documentary itself.

    Wonderfully clear and open, there is nothing that is missed in this soundtrack. The joy of hearing running water, platypuses swimming, birds chirping and the simple wonder of the silence of the forest is one that we so rarely hear - but we do here. This is really very nice stuff indeed with really nothing at all wrong - except perhaps the knowledge that if a two channel soundtrack is this good, what would a six channel soundtrack have sounded like?

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

Extras

    So how do you put together an extras package to support an excellent documentary about the world's strangest animal? Well, ABC Video have found a way...

Menu

    A bit disappointing in view of the quality of the main programme, but they do what they are supposed to do. The audio enhancement is okay.

Featurette - Bobby And The Banded Stilts (28:11)

    You might well wonder why this award-winning documentary has been included on the DVD as an extra. After all, what does it have to do with the platypus? Well, that bird that we have all probably seen at one time along the coast is actually one of the world's strangest birds. Not because of its looks or anything obvious but rather because of its most unusual breeding habits that remained an enigma to ornithologists for many a year. Well, take some dormant shrimp eggs, a few dry salt lakes and a fair bit of rain and the mystery is revealed. Cyclone Bobby descended upon north-west Western Australia in February, 1995 and proceeded inland, dumping huge amounts of rain in the process. That rain managed to make Lakes Barlee, Ballard and Marmion (located north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia) inland seas for the first time in years. So sprang into action the Banded Stilts who even before the rains created the inland seas were started on their journeys from the coast, to breed for the first time in years. 70,000 birds descended on two islands in Lake Ballard and the cameras were there to record this rare event. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound at the higher 224 Kb/s bitrate. Almost as fascinating as the main feature, this is technically very good.

Gallery - Photo

    Twenty stills of platypuses, taken during the filming of the documentary presumably.

R4 vs R1

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

    As far as we are aware, this has not yet been released in Region 1. Given that it is a co-production with the Discovery Channel, I would guess that it will probably eventually garner a release. Why wait for the possibility when you have the Region 4 here and now?

Summary

    Platypus: World's Strangest Animal is a terrific look at one of the most mysterious creatures on the planet. You would have to be pretty demanding to ever expect something better than this, and the presentation is really top notch. With a fascinating documentary included in the extras too, this really is a wonderful package that is highly recommended to all.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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