Walking with Dinosaurs (1999)

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Released 23-May-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio-Visual Commentary-Director
Featurette-Making Of
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 223:05 (Case: 230)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Tim Haines
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Case Village Roadshow New Style
RPI $4.95 Music Ben Bartlett


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 Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, narration in credits

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Plot Synopsis

    Have you ever heard someone tell you that nothing good ever came from computer technology, and that films making use of Computer-Generated Imagery can't compare to the flicks of olden times? Walking With Dinosaurs is an educational feature that will make these people add salt and pepper before unceremoniously dining on their words. Thanks to the rather unique vision of Tim Haines, who wrote and produced this documentary, we are able to travel right back to the Triassic era and gain a first-person look at the world of Dinosaurs and some of their evolutionary predecessors. The series consists of six thirty-odd minute episodes, each covering a specific period from the time when the Dinosaurs were the newest creature to grace the ancient land. The six episodes of the series, each of them narrated by Kenneth Branagh, are as follows:     I cannot stress enough how great this documentary looks on our beloved discs, just by virtue of how life-like the CGI dinosaurs are, not to mention just how much personality the animation and script put into the central subject of the documentary. This, of course, is ably assisted by Kenneth Branagh's passionate narration, which sounds almost as if he were merely speaking into a camera about the events depicted upon the screen. This all translates into a highly immersive and engaging viewing experience, ably assisted by Ben Bartlett's dramatic and powerful score music, which has more impact than even the sounds of the Dinosaurs grunting and growling. Obviously, it would be easy for one to think that this documentary series would only appeal to those who have a fascination with dinosaurs, and one would be very wrong. This documentary will make the dinosaurs it features a fascinating subject to all minds, especially those who find fascination in such films as Aliens, with its powerfully rendered animations that make you care about the individual subject of each shot as if you'd known them personally since birth. If you're in any way interested in how natural habitats have evolved, then this documentary is for you. At sixty dollars for four hours and forty minutes of fascinating content, it's a bargain compared to some other DVDs available on the local market.

    One last note: this discs are presented in a double-button case of a newer variety. Essentially, what this means is that two button-cases were simply glued together on one side to fit the two discs. This is a horrible arrangement, and one that has caused quite a lot of consternation on forums, which is understandable given how hard the disc is to extract from the button-shaped holder found inside this case. I strongly urge Village Roadshow to consider abandoning the use of this case, as even the style of packaging used with the Alien Legacy disc is preferable to this.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Special Note: In another extremely annoying move, Roadshow Home Entertainment and the BBC have decided to encode these discs without the use of the much-loved time display function, making for a most annoying experience when trying to determine the length of an individual episode. As a result, all of the time locations given at any point in this review are according to the stopwatch function on the wristwatch attached to my person, and are therefore approximate.

    While this transfer is excellent overall, it is denied reference status by some extremely small problems that would mostly escape the attention of all but the most serious viewer. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced, in direct contrast to the double-VHS version, which is only available in the Pan & Scan format. Incidentally, such a version is not available on this DVD presentation, automatically-encoded or otherwise. The transfer is razor-sharp most of the time, except for the few shots that were accomplished with real locations. A few backgrounds were blurred, with their subjects appearing slightly less defined than their foreground counterparts, but this appears to be a source-material issue. Shadow detail was excellent, as you would expect from a more-or-less entirely computer-generated series of television episodes that were only produced last year. Low-level noise was not a problem except in certain shots, which were also accomplished using real-life subject matter such as the polar skyline. Among the worst examples were some shots in the area around a Cynodont nest from 24:50 to 25:30, but this is sadly not the only example. Since the rest of the transfer is so good, I am prepared to give this section the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is a problem with the way the footage was shot rather than a transfer problem. It is hard to determine whether these slips in sharpness are deliberate or not.

    The colour saturation was spot-on from start to finish, with each and every subtle feature of the landscape being rich and deeply textured to add to the life-like feel. Dinosaur skin tones were faithfully reproduced, and the myriad of stony, dirty, or bushy tones that form the environment were so life-like that it made me want to crawl into my screen and join the picture, except for the frightening reptiles that appeared on-screen at most of these moments. MPEG artefacts did not appear to be a problem most of the time, but some shots of water seemed to suffer from loss of detail in the background at inopportune moments, particularly during the third episode. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some aliasing in minute areas of the picture, and the problems with detail in the backgrounds of some shots may in fact be aliasing as well. Some shimmering in the entirety of the picture became evident at moments such as 96:00, which I believe would be a problem inherent in the conversion of the digital picture to celluloid form. Film artefacts were almost completely absent from the transfer, although I could swear I saw small white marks in the occasional frame.

    The packaging claims that subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Finnish are available during the main feature. Only the first of these options is available, and the subtitles in question are rather variant from what Kenneth Branagh is actually saying at most points in the feature.

    The first of the two discs in this set is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change placed in the same manner as with The Black Adder, Series 1, in between episodes. As the layer change is placed between episodes, it is totally undetectable, and therefore completely non-disruptive.

Audio

    Given the recent vintage of the material in question, it is somewhat disappointing that we are only provided with the one soundtrack, a Dolby Digital 2.0 effort in the original English. However, the soundtrack we are provided with is good enough for the purposes of the film, given that we are not dealing with the likes of a new Arnold Schwarzenegger production (although the title would suggest an appearance or three from the likes of George Lucas). Being that this English Dolby Digital 2.0 narration is the only dialogue track available on the first disc, I stuck with it and found it to be a striking and powerful effort to behold. The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times, even during moments of high levels in ambient sounds, music, plods, and the Dinosaur growls that consistently dominate the entire soundscape. Audio sync was never a problem during the main feature on the first disc, given that the only thing on the screen when anything other than the narration that resembles speech takes place are the Dinosaurs.

    The score music presented with the documentary was composed by Ben Bartlett, and it is quite striking and powerful, with a certain marriage to the onscreen events that John Williams would certainly be proud of. Indeed, the themes for the Pterosaurs have a certain wandering feel to them that make the onscreen action seem all the more life-like, and the first-person shots from the perspective of the migrating Pterosaur seem utterly convincing to say the least. The tragic, minor sound of this creature's final journey is haunting to say the least, as are many themes used when a Dinosaur is forced into a situation that would seem tragic and wasteful to we modern humans. This is a score that is definitely worth owning on compact disc, as it has a sort of power that I would normally associate with such films as Star Wars or Robocop. The only complaint this brings me to is that an isolated score was not provided, as the combination of the music and the onscreen action without the narration or sound effects would be quite entertaining to say the very least.

    Being that this is a straight stereo mix, there was no activity to speak of out of the surrounds, which is a bit of a disappointment when you consider the amount of opportunities for a frightening surround experience this subject matter presents. A Tyrannosaurus Rex thundering from the rears to the fronts as he wanders across the screen would have been a truly magnificent thing to hear. The stereo channels had a great deal of ambient and heavy sounds pouring through them with presence being emphasized over direction. Some splitting of the stereo channels was noted after a listen through a pair of headphones, but this is hardly a good substitute for some well-placed directional effects. The subwoofer had a whale of a time supporting most every sound in the mix, from the Dinosaurs' footsteps and growls, through to the bass-heavy music. There was scarcely a moment when the subwoofer had time to sit still, and its thuds could be heard throughout the room (and most of the house).

Extras

    The extras are somewhat disappointing after reading the packaging, which states that a director's commentary is available on this package. It is not. The Dolby Digital City trailer makes an appearance on this disc, and unlike previous Roadshow Home Entertainment discs to feature this trailer, the fast-forward function cannot be used to skip it.

Menu

    The main menus of both discs are heavily animated, with Dinosaurs crawling around in it, and it is 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Other menus also contain some milder animation and audio to keep the mood consistent.

Picture-In-Picture Commentary

    This feature is encoded as an alternate angle, in which some parts of the films are accompanied by making-of footage and commentary on how various shots were accomplished. If this is what Roadshow Home Entertainment mean by a director's commentary, then they are seriously reaching, given that I had to go through ten minutes of one episode to find a use of this feature, which lasted around thirty seconds, if that. On the positive side, it does provide some rather interesting revelations into just how some of the amazing shots were simulated before the dinosaurs were added.

Disc Two - The Making Of Walking With Dinosaurs (48:57)

    This is a fifty-minute documentary about the making of Walking With Dinosaurs that reveals scientific viewpoints, anatomic constructions, and the logistics of filming on locations that provided a believable similarity to the world that existed hundreds of millions of years ago. The most fascinating part of this documentary is by far the chapters in which the process of blending the animatronics with the CGI dinosaurs is described. The video quality of this disc is much better than the main feature due to the looser compression, but some film-to-video artefacts are also apparent in the video transfer. The video transfer is presented at the same aspect ratio as the main feature - 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement. The audio transfer is also presented in the same Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo format as the main feature, but makes much less use of the subwoofer or split stereo effects. This documentary is fascinating, but not entirely worthy of the purchase in itself (hence my reviewing it as if it were just another extra).

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     According to reports, the R1 packaging is a triple fold-out design with a booklet slotting into the left of the packaging, and the two discs located in the centre and right of the packaging, affixed onto jewel-case style hubs. I cannot help but say that this sounds like a far better design than what we have been stuck with, but I am not quite fussy enough to buy a different version of the discs for the packaging. The extra resolution in the PAL transfer would make our version the version of choice, especially if the two versions have been sourced from the same material.

Summary

    Walking With Dinosaurs is a surprisingly compelling educational documentary, presented on a very good pair of DVDs.

    The video quality is excellent, but could have been slightly better. It would be interesting to see what this DVD looks like on a progressive-scan player.

    Considering that this is only a stereo mix, the audio quality is quite brilliant.

    The extras are reasonable considering that there is a whole disc dedicated to the making of the series.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, June 06, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDGrundig GDV-100D/Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsong CS-823AMF (80cm)/Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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