Wild Australasia (2003)
Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Wildlife On One: Possums - Tales Of The Unexpected
Featurette-Wild Penguin Paradise
|Year Of Production||2003|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||None Given|
Roadshow Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.78:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Wild Australasia is a very recent addition to the BBC's enviable stable of wildlife/natural history documentary series. Whilst ostensibly covering Australasia, it focuses extremely heavily on Australia, with PNG and New Zealand given a small amount of air-time. It takes a journey across the diverse range of Australasian habitats, and reveals how the flora and fauna of Australia in particular evolved to suit the often harsh terrain.
Watching a series such as this one, spread across a period of a couple of months, is probably the best way to enjoy it. For the purposes of this review, I watched all the episodes across only a few days - and the experience suffers due to the compressed timeframe. It becomes much more apparent how much repetition of footage there is in the series - both in the recycling of film clips, and in the narrative. The narration in this series is provided by Matt Day and he is no David Attenborough. Whilst his voice is pleasant enough, the narration contained rather too many platitudes and gushing superlatives for my liking. It simply does not carry the depth and authority of an Attenborough piece.
The series does contain some striking close-up photography and some really wonderful underwater cinematography, but it can tend to be a little repetitive if watched in short order. The introduction to each episode is full of the same platitudes about the size and diversity of Australia, and some footage seems to be repeated across different episodes. All six episodes from the series are presented as follows:
Wild Australasia is reasonably entertaining at times, with plenty to educate and inform the whole family. Personally I prefer to see the narrator interacting with the landscape a little - the disembodied voice feels a little too impersonal to me, making the series feel more like a lecture than a shared journey through our natural habitat. The BBC have produced more cutting edge works than this - like Walking With Beasts for example - but it will probably still delight avid natural history fans.
The video quality of this transfer is generally good, but it does have a few minor defects present from time to time.
The series is presented in a 16x9 enhanced ratio of 1.78:1, which I assume is the original (digital) televised aspect ratio. The video transfer is generally very sharp on the close-up shots, but there is a fair degree of pixelization and low level noise in some of the backgrounds - particularly in brightly-lit skies.
Colours are clean and often beautifully rendered, with an overall bright transfer which does justice to the magnificent subject matter. Colour bleeding is not a problem. Black levels are deep enough and in the darker shots shadow detail is perfectly satisfactory.
The transfer does occasionally show some digital compression artefacts, for example macro-blocking in fast moving flocks of birds. Whilst edge enhancement is never really noticeable there is some noticeable aliasing present, usually in middle-distance shots rather than any of the close-up work. The cinematography is often sublime, and the close-up shots of animals (particularly some of the lizards) is often striking - and occasionally breathtakingly clear.
The transfer is pretty well free from scratches, flecks and other film (video) source artefacts.
There are no subtitles present on the disc, which is a bad oversight.
Both discs in the set are dual layered, single sided (DVD 9) formatted discs, but the layer change was never noticeable.
The overall audio transfer is generally good with one annoying flaw.
The sole audio track is in English, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo encoded at 192 kbps.
Dialogue is always clear and there are no issues with audio sync.
Original music is credited to Adrian Johnston and is a pleasant orchestral piece which suits the mood of the material very well. It is quite a catchy theme and makes for a pleasant listen although if you watch the episodes in rapid succession it may become a tad grating.
The front speakers provide a broad spread of sound across the front soundstage, but alas this is also the problem area of the audio transfer. There is an issue when the balance of the dialogue briefly flicks from the centre speaker to the front right speaker and then back into the centre channel. This happens mid sentence and is (to my ears at least) verging on the annoying as the soundstage presence changes for a second or so, with the narrator seeming to shift position slightly. I noticed it numerous times through the series, but examples are audible around 19:54 or 20:03 in the Gum Tree Country episode.
The surround speakers, if you have Pro Logic II enabled, deliver some quite evocative activity as the sounds of the rainforest and flocks of birds appear to immerse you quite convincingly. There is also quite a convincing sense of localised effects - parrots squawking over your shoulder for instance. The subwoofer may be used to carry some bass effects to support the score, depending on how your system is set up.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are a few extras present.
The menu is a static montage of stills from the series, accompanied by a short loop of the theme music. It allows you to choose individual episodes, play them all in sequence or select from eight chapter stops per episode. Finally, you can view the following special features:
A Wildlife On One documentary, narrated by the inimitable David Attenborough. This feature runs for 28:59 and is presented full frame at 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps.
A number of profiles for close to a dozen native and introduced animals - from koalas, to foxes, to echidnas. They are presented as silent, text-based screens and are quite detailed, but not a particularly exciting read.
Hugh Pearson presents this fairly light-hearted short filmed on the Snares Islands, off the New Zealand coast, which runs for a slight 9:10. It is presented in the full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This two disc set does not appear to be available in either Region 1 or Region 2 yet.
Wild Australasia will be a worthwhile watch for fans of wildlife/natural history documentaries. It is good to see so much time devoted to this neck of the woods, but I personally found it a little repetitive so would recommend rationing your viewing to one or two episodes per week to avoid a sense of deja vu. Whilst not up to the standards of David Attenborough's best work, there is little for local natural history fans to complain about here.
The video quality is generally good, with occasional pixelization and aliasing issues.
The audio transfer is generally good, other than the intermittent collapsing soundstage problem.
The extras add some value, but are nothing outstanding.
|DVD||Harmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output|
|Display||Sanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES|
|Speakers||JensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer|