Walking with Beasts (2001)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Triumph Of The Beasts
Featurette-The Beasts Within
Notes-Beast Fact Files
|Year Of Production||2001|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||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|
Following on from the incredibly successful series Walking With Dinosaurs comes the sequel, Walking With Beasts. The dinosaurs, as we know, were virtually wiped out around 65 million years ago by either a giant meteor hitting the earth or a combination of cataclysmic events which almost certainly changed the climatic conditions of the planet and lead to the demise of these saurian giants. We also know that certain species survived this period, but what do we know about the period between the death of the dinosaurs and the coming of man, approximately 30,000 years ago?
This series, presented in six parts similarly to the first series, concentrates specifically on time periods within that 65 million year space to present us with some amazing vision of what the earth was like during that time and the types of animals that inhabited the earth. Drawn from the fossil records found around the planet and some educated guesses, as well as using enhanced CGI to simulate the various conditions, Walking With Beasts shows us what palaeontologists believe existed in the Eocene and Oligocene periods right up to the Woolly Mammoth and the Sabre Tooth cats. This is a fascinating series, much like the first one, only this time most of the creatures are totally new and radically different to anything we've seen before, or since.
New Dawn - 29:04
This is the Eocene period of Earth's history, approximately 49 million years ago. The planet has recovered from the cataclysm and is covered in rain forests with relatively hot climatic conditions abounding. This episode covers a day in the life of a small mammal, Leptictidium and her young. They are small mammalian carnivores that eat insects and frogs but are themselves prey to creatures such as Ambulacetus (the walking whale), a precursor of modern whales and Gastornis (giant bird), who are the top predators of this period. We also meet Propaleatherium who are the first horses, very tiny by comparison to today's giants and very much the prey of other carnivores such as Gastornis.
Whale Killer - 28:41
The series jumps forward to approximately 36 million years ago, the late Eocene period and we find the earth is now covered by a gigantic sea called the Tethyis which stretches from Asia to the Atlantic. The ocean is dominated by huge mammalian whales, Basilosaurus, over four times the length of a shark and weighing in at over 60 tons. We follow the life of a female Basilosaurus who will struggle as the oceans of the world suffer from another change in climate. The poles are freezing and radically altering the food supply. You'll also meet Dorudons, another whale, Andrewsarchus, a land carnivore weighing in at over a ton and related to the sheep/goat family (an interesting aside: this creature was named after Roy Chapman Andrews upon whom the character of Indiana Jones was based), Moeritherium, gigantic water based animals, precursors of the elephant family, Brontotheres, distant relatives of the horse/rhinos and primates such as Apidian, who are beginning to appear.
Land of the Giants - 28:48
Forward to 25 million years ago and we are now in the Oligocene period. This episode follows the life of an Indricothere mother and her newborn calf. Indricothere is a 12 tonne behemoth that stands almost 7 metres tall, but is relatively placid and a plant eater with no known natural enemies once it has matured. We are taken on a journey through the harsh, sometimes arid conditions as the mother and calf attempt to survive. Also introduced are Hyaenodon, large predators (not related to hyenas), but which are the size of rhinoceros, Chalicotheres, massive 3 metre sloths that walk on their knuckles and are related to horses and possibly the most ugly predator of all time, Enteldonts, distant relatives of the pig family whose own worst enemy is itself. Giant carnivores, they prey on almost anything, and anyone.
Next of Kin - 28:34
It is now 3.2 million years ago and we are based in what will become Ethiopia of the future. The first precursor of man has appeared, Australopithecus, a medium-sized ape-like creature that has adapted to walk on two legs and moved down from the trees onto the ground. Although its brain is still very tiny, it shows some of the first man-like attributes, although at this stage of evolution it is still strictly prey for the predators and not top of the food chain. One of Australopithecus' main threats is Dinofelis, a large cat creature of the Sabre Tooth variety. They share their domain with Ancylotherium, a plant eating giant that is slowly dying. Then there are the Deinotherium, a creature that looks a lot like an elephant but is three times larger and with a temper to match. This episode follows the lives of a small group of Australopithecus who are decimated by malaria and forced out of the safety of their territory to find new feeding grounds.
Sabre Tooth - 28:43
This is Paraguay, 1 million years ago and the land bridge between North and South America has formed for the first time, allowing migration of giant cats known as Smilodon to new killing grounds in the south. This episode follows three months in the life of one such Smilodon, Broken Tooth, a Sabre Tooth cat who is usurped from his pride by the arrival of two brothers who oust him. We are introduced to the Terror Birds such as Phorusrhacos, 3 metres tall and previously the top of the food chain but who are subsequently replaced by the Sabre Tooths. We also meet strange creatures like Doedicurus, massive spiked tailed armadillos the size of a car and the largest ground sloth of all time, Megatherium whose skin is similar to chain mail and who has huge killing claws that can kill even the most deadly of predators, including the Sabre Tooth.
Mammoth Journey - 28:43
It is now 30,000 years ago and the world is a cold, ice-bound ball with a short summer and long winters. A small herd of Woolly Mammoths are the centre of attention in this episode as they move across what is now the North Sea to the Alps for their winter housing. The grasslands of the summer are replaced by freezing winters that can reach 60 below and this world is populated by Saiga antelopes with broad noses to warm the air as they breathe, Megaloceros, giant deer with horns the size of a human being, Woolly Rhinos with poor sight and great smell and of course humans. There are two species now in evidence, the Neanderthals, large and brutish with sloping foreheads and dense bone structure that did not migrate, but rather weathered out the cold and slowly dying out, and our own ancestors, Cro-Magnons, with smaller, thinner bodies, but much more adaptable to the conditions and more dexterous.
This series again makes the past come alive in a way that makes understanding so much easier. As with the original series, the use of CGI graphics to create these now long-lost worlds, as well as using areas of the world where conditions are still similar to what existed makes for an exciting and engrossing series of episodes that both educate and entertain. Kenneth Branagh provides another wonderful narration that is totally informative but never too dry and the pace of the series is excellent. There were a few minor annoyances from my own point of view and the series doesn't have the dramatic impact of the Dinosaurs series, but then, what can compete with T-Rex in all its majesty? Overall, this is a shining example of how to make the very dry and mostly boring subject of palaeontology come vividly to life, even if there may be some holes in their extrapolation of fact based on bits of bone fragments. Regardless, it still shows that natural history can be every bit as evocative as science fiction when presented correctly.
Made in 2001 and with the original series of ...Dinosaurs behind it you'd expect the same general excellence that made that series such a huge visual feast, and you'd be right to a degree. The difference comes in that, unlike the dinosaurs, which are mostly slow, ponderous, giant creatures with mostly varying skin textures, this series has to contend with a much more diverse series of elements that made it much harder to be exact and visually correct. Skin is replaced by feathers and fur in many instances which look quite good overall, but the movement of some of the CGI characters and beasts falls a little short of the mark. This is especially true of the human ancestors, Australopithecus who often look false in their movements and looks. Naturally, if you forgive these small issues, this is still is a beautifully presented series.
The transfer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.
Sharpness is exemplary. Even though much of the vision has CGI overlays, there is a real naturalness to it with no signs of blurring and the integration is as smooth as anything I've seen done on a budget of this size. The shadow detail is magnificent, with much detail being presented, even when they use low light or night vision. Low level noise is never an issue. Grain is an interesting dilemma in this series. For the most part it is almost invisible, especially during the daylight shots. Where dusk or low light conditions are shown, grain increases, almost deliberately, and night shots are exceptionally grainy. This is more to do with trying to present the material as we might see it from normal cameras (as if they were there 35 million years ago) rather than a problem with the transfer. Therefore, I'm inclined to say that grain is only visible where the producers wanted it to be so it is not an issue with the transfer per se.
Apart from the overly bright parts of a couple of the episodes, the colours are staggering, both in their variation and quality. At no stage could I detect any colour bleed or chroma noise, and the palette used is incredible.
Apart from the odd, slight shimmering on the picture, there were no visible MPEG, video or film artefacts to be seen throughout. This was absolutely spotless from this perspective.
The subtitles are easy to read, presented in a nice, easy-on-the-eye font. They are white against the background. The actual content of the subtitles is fairly consistent with the narration, although occasionally words are left out, probably for simplicity's sake only.
Although listed as a dual layered disc, no layer change was specifically noted. Due to the episodic nature of the material, it wouldn't be surprising if the layer change separated episodes, which would make perfect sense.
There is only one audio track on this disc, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 at a fair bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. The dialogue is squarely in the centre speaker with some separation across the fronts for the music and sound effects. Although not a truly immersive experience, given the documentary nature of the material this wasn't an issue.
Kenneth Branagh's dialogue is precise, clear, articulate and very easy to understand (if you are not sure, turn on the subtitles for clarification of names, but that's all you'd normally need them for). Being narration, there are no audio sync issues to worry about for the most part, although what little non-narration there was was spot on in the sync department.
The musical score was composed by Ben Barlett and performed by the BBC orchestra and is an absolute beauty. An isolated music track would have nicely rounded out this two-disc set. The music is very noticeable at times but adds immensely to the drama in many of the scenes. Excellently constructed and performed and a real complement to the series, just like ..Dinosaurs.
You may notice quite a bit of sound from your rear speakers from this soundtrack. Again, although only nominally a 2.0 audio track, there was a fair amount of redirected sound sent to the rears which made for a slightly enlarged soundfield and gave a slightly more immersive quality to the whole show.
Every now and then my system gave the subwoofer something to do, but mostly it was an inactive participant. Since this is in effect a 2.0 soundtrack, that isn't surprising.
|Surround Channel Use|
This 49:04 making of documentary details the rise of the mammals when the dinosaurs became extinct and how they triumphed (basically luck and adaptive traits). There is a lot of detail on the animatronics used in the series, extracts from the previous series and details on how they worked up the models for use in the current series. There is an excellent comparison of the sizes of dinosaurs and the biggest mammals and details on the role of climate change on various species. All in all, this is an excellently produced and informative documentary that neatly fits the bits and pieces together to form a whole.
Another documentary with a running time of 49:07, this time focussing on man's rise to the top of the food chain and why we became the most successful mammals on the planet. This reconstructs our evolution using fossil records from all over the world to create a timeline and discusses the adaptations that our ancestors made that marked them as unique from other animals of the period. Interesting asides like why Neanderthal man died out and Cro-Mags succeeded make for fascinating insights into natural selection, and finally there is a short synopsis on what killed the giant Mammoths - man or nature? Accompanying this last segment is Monty Python's Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.
With a running time of 23:56, this includes interviews with Executive Producer Tim Haines on getting the Walking With ... series off the ground and funded, Jasper James on the making of the series, Max Tyrie, the lead animator for the series, Jeremy Gibson Harris from Gibson Creatures who created the animatronics for the series and Alex Freeman who was the lead researcher for the series. Interesting series of quick interviews of the people that made the whole series possible.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
I cannot find any mention of this DVD being available in Region 1 at this time (note: as usual they have renamed the series...to Walking With Prehistoric Beasts for some strange reason). There is a Region 2 disc available, but given the exchange rate, the locally produced version will probably be the disc of choice.
Another excellent series from the BBC made available on DVD in a quality format. As with the previous series, Walking With Beasts is the sort of fare you can watch many times over, and the medium of DVD will not diminish in quality over time. Excellently narrated, this is another fine addition for the whole family to enjoy.
The video is excellent with no noticeable distractions.
The accompanying audio is sufficient for the job at hand but not over-the-top.
The package of extras will entertain as long as the series does. An excellent addition and worth buying on its own.
|DVD||Rotel RDV995, using RGB output|
|Display||Loewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Rotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Rotel RB 985 MkII|
|Speakers||JBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer|