National Geographic-Kingdom of the Blue Whale (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 16-Mar-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Wild Chronicles: Whales (6.51)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 96:00 (Case: 90)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Sue Houghton
Scott Baker
John Calambokidis
Darlene Kenton
Bruce Matz
Erin Olson
Stephen R. Palumbi
Gisli Vikingson
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $39.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080i
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

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Plot Synopsis

     Kingdom of the Blue Whale is a 2009 documentary from the team at National Geographic, distributed by Madman Entertainment. The film has been released in this region on both DVD and Blu-ray.

     The word "kingdom" is a common but perhaps inapt description for the blue whale. Though undoubtedly majestic in size and appearance, the blue whale’s "kingdom", if this documentary is anything to go by, is a sprawling series of sea lanes and offshoots. What is more, the monarch is frequently difficult to find - more of a king in exile.

     Kingdom of the Blue Whale is a 90 min documentary. Therefore the filmmakers have a good deal of time to create a story to back the footage of the blue whales coursing through the seas. In this case, the National Geographic team pursue a few leads in order to answer some of the key questions regarding the life cycle of the blue whale, in particular, where the animals are born. We follow one team of intrepid scientists as they cruise down the coast of the Americas, from the coast of California to the Costa Rica Dome, following the path of some tagged giants. Another crew travels with some scientists to Japan to see whether blue whale meat still finds itself on the menu in that country.

     The difficulty of locating and properly filming blue whales means that this documentary has the hallmarks of "old school" nature films - remember those Sunday night Disney shows, where the climax of the experience was to actually locate the creature and film it. The increasing sophistication of the BBC nature films has led to a higher expectation of "bag 'em and tag 'em" nature experiences where we live on the animals’ very doorstep through their life triumphs and tragedies. Seen in that light this is more of a tribute to the scientists who tirelessly try to understand and thereby conserve these massive creatures.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Kingdom of the Blue Whale is, like other National Geographic Blu-rays, presented in a 1080i transfer. It is a 1.78:1 transfer consistent with the original aspect ratio. The mere thought of a 1080i transfer is enough to put off some nature documentary lovers who want the highest visual fidelity when watching the frequently cutting edge images presented. There is nothing quite like using Life from the BBC to demonstrate the visual capabilities of Blu-ray.

     Those who seek to show off this Blu-ray are likely to be disappointed. That is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the difference between 1080i and 1080p is often noticeable in this transfer. There is a lack of crystal clear sharpness. Make no mistake, this is clearer than any DVD but at 1080i is no better than the image quality of the show on High Definition TV. Secondly, the film is not really prefaced upon stunning imagery. Most of it is scientists in boats looking for the elusive whales. Further, there is stock footage of whales used which varies noticeably from the fresh material. Finally, the visual quality of the film is challenged by the very nature of ocean photography. Water plays havoc with compression and the evidence of mild compression artefacts runs throughout the film.

     The CGI work is passable without being excellent. The colours are strong and stable. I noticed some aliasing at points and a slight digital shimmer. That is not to suggest that the film falls below all acceptable standards, just be aware that this is not to be compared on a visual scale with the best of the nature documentaries.

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

Audio

     The Blu-ray case describes the disc as carrying two soundtracks - English 5.1 DTS HD and English 2.0 Dolby Digital. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There is certainly a 2.0 track running at 192Kb/s but there is no High Definition soundtrack. The 5.1 track is Dolby Digital 5.1 running at a conservative 448Kb/s. As a result the soundtrack seems a little flat and uninteresting. The surrounds don't really do much and the sub-woofer isn't engaged. It would have been preferable for a high quality LPCM track.

     It is not bad and most National Geographic fans wouldn't have reason to complain as it does the job but really this is just a DVD with a better picture quality! Tom Selleck gives a fairly dry narration. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing as it is preferable to an overexcited commentary, laden wit false drama. The rest of the dialogue comes through interviews with scientists or staged chatter. It is clear enough but not high quality.

     The music attempts to interject some element of drama into the proceedings. The score is a little cheesy. Having decided to make a film about the science of cetacean hunting there seems to be little reason to try to artificially amp up the action through music.

     There are no real technical problems with the track. It is just a little underwhelming.

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

Extras

Featurette-Behind The Scenes (6.21)

     There is only one extra, a wide ranging short film, in 480i, in a 4:3 presentation. It looks briefly at the threats to whales across the globe. It is worth a watch, suggesting that the whale watching trend makes whales more valuable alive and observed than on the plate.

R4 vs R1

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

    This is an All Region Blu-ray. Buy local.

Summary

     Those expecting a riveting and informative nature film will be disappointed, perhaps like the scientists themselves, that the blue whale is not very willing to give up its secrets. The film is really about the challenge to understand this huge but shy creature.

     The Blu-ray is below the border of being a bad deal. At present the best price that it can be bought for is $37.99. With these specifications it may be cheaper for National Geographic fans to buy Foxtel! I would have given it 2.5 stars except for the fact that the whale images still manage to entrance.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, June 24, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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