The Private Life of Plants (1995)

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Released 12-Nov-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Interviews-Cast-Blue Peter Interview With David Attenborough (6:27)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Hot Shots (5:00)
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 293:44 (Case: 292)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:25)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Neil Lucas
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring David Attenborough
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $49.95 Music Richard Grassby-Lewis


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 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

    Having just indulged in one of the finest BBC dramas of recent times, it seems appropriate that I turn my attention to another offering from David Attenborough. We have gotten quite used to him roaming the world chasing animals of all shapes and sizes, with each programme pushing the boundaries of excellence further each time. The emphasis on animals is quite obvious: after all, at the base level they are cute and lovable, but are generally blatantly animated and doing stuff. When that stuff is say the prowling of a cheetah or the graceful movement of the blue whale, it is very easy to be enthralled, informed and entertained. But there is a dominant class of life that for all the world appears to be dull and boring, going about its business with the minimum of fuss it seems. The fact that its business ensures that the world can sustain all the animal life it does of course makes the plants fundamentally the most important class of life on the planet. If the plants did not do what they do - photosynthesise - then none of us would be around to learn about what they do.

    It is therefore fundamental, as well as inevitable, that David Attenborough turns his attention to this seemingly benign class of life as a necessary adjunct to all his marvellous animal-biased series. The Private Life Of Plants, however, delves not only into the essentials of their importance to the Earth, but also dispels the perception that these are dull, boring examples of life that operate in a benign way. You might not know it, but there is some exciting stuff happening out there amongst the plants.

    There are six episodes making up the series:

    If you are familiar with the previous releases from David Attenborough then you have already got a fair indication of the sort of quality that is on offer here. Obviously if you are going to try and make some apparently boring plants interesting, you are going to have to break new ground in how to record the machinations of the plants. We get plenty of that here. Some of the photography is absolutely amazing, and you certainly do have to wonder whether there could ever be anything better than this involving plants. There are some obvious highlights in the series, such as the staggering photography of the wasps in the fig flowers, but just about everything here is terrific and highly entertaining and informative.

    Coupled with a generally very good transfer in all respects, this is another excellent outing by David Attenborough and the BBC Natural History Unit that will certainly be an excellent addition to any collection.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format that is of course not 16x9 enhanced. With the dearth of information available for the technical side of the series, I do not know if this was shot in widescreen or not, although I suspect not.

    The transfer is really a very good one in most respects, with the definition and detail of course needing to be of the highest order - which is of course delivered. Sure some of it is not of an exceptional standard, but there are only so many miracles that you can expect of material shot in terribly low light conditions as exist on the floor of the great forests for instance. Sharpness is generally very good, with nothing that really smacks of softness - although certainly a more recent programme would perhaps have been even sharper than this. Shadow detail reflects the locations of the shooting and nothing much can be done about that at times. There was a degree of lightish grain floating around, but mainly in low light footage that perhaps is excusable. Overall, the transfer is quite clear and does not suffer from low level noise.

    One area that was a slight disappointment was in the colours, which were at times a little less solid in tone that I would have expected and certainly not as vibrant as I would have hoped. However, I suppose that with so much footage shot on location, the scope for consistently solid tonal depth could be compromised somewhat. As it is, there is nothing really wrong with the colour - it's just not as colourful and as vibrant as I would have hoped. Looking to examples that I am familiar with, the Kangaroo Paws, Cats Paws and Christmas Tree with which I am very familiar simply did not have the brightness and vividness of colour that I see outside my window during the year. There are no problems with oversaturation or colour bled in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although once or twice something more than shimmer and not quite pixelization appeared to break out briefly (such as at 32:48 on disc one and 21:18 on disc two). There was a degree of minor aliasing in the transfer at times, but nothing that really could be considered obvious. It was mainly simple things like in the stems at 16:22 on disc two where the issue was a little more than mere background stuff of no consequence. There were no obvious film artefacts in the transfer.

    Both the DVDs in the package are RSDL formatted, with the layer changes coming at 74:25 on disc one and 78:46 on disc two. There is just a brief pause in the playback as the layer change is negotiated that barely impacts upon the whole presentation at all.

    There is just an English For The Hearing Impaired subtitle option on these DVDs. They are generally quite good, with minimal change to the narration done to accommodate the whole lot easily in the flow of the programme.

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

Audio

    An English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is the sole option available on the DVD. If the bass included in the soundtrack is any indication, this is a surround-encoded soundtrack.

    Everything in the way of the dialogue comes up well in the soundtrack and it is all easily understood. There are no obvious audio sync issues with the transfer.

    The incidental music for the series has been provided by Richard Grassby-Lewis and does the job that is required of it. Whilst the theme is quite decent and reasonably memorable, the rest of the score is understated and entirely supportive.

    The extent of the bass information in the soundtrack was a reasonable and welcome lift to the overall presentation that, rather inevitably, does not offer a lot of dynamic. I mean, just how dynamic can plants get in a aural sense? Well, in a few instances a heck of a lot more than I was expecting! Still, aside from the narration and incidental music, not a lot is happening here. Quite clear and open, there is nothing much to fault the soundtrack over.

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

Extras

    Not an overly wonderful package but then again after the quality of the programming itself, I doubt whether anything could really expect to be worthwhile.

Menu

   Rather decent efforts with some reasonable audio enhancement.

Interview - Blue Peter Interview with David Attenborough (6:27)

   Given the source of the interview, I was not expecting too much and so was not really surprised when not much was offered. Interview is perhaps overstating the mark somewhat as there is little in the way of interview and more in the way of excerpts from the series, as befitting what was really a promotional effort for the series. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with decent Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Technical quality is not great with some obvious false colouration issues in David Attenborough's shirt, along with the odd dash of moiré artefacting.

Featurette - Hot Shots (5:00)

   A regrettably too short effort that lifts the lid on the secret of how they did the photography of the bluebells in England. No, it was not exactly done outside, but rather a controlled environment built outside. It, too, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 that is not 16x9 enhanced, and comes with good Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There is a bit of aliasing going on in the picture but nothing really bothersome.

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 I can find out, the series has not been released on DVD in Region 1 and the Region 2 release is identical to the Region 4 effort.

Summary

    The Private Life Of Plants is yet another excellent natural history documentary from the incomparable David Attenborough. It is not unfair to suggest that perhaps the way you view plants might be well and truly changed by this series. With the technical quality being generally very good, there is absolutely no way that this should not be recommended for inclusion in every DVD collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, November 23, 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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