Walking with Beasts (2001)

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Released 25-Jun-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Triumph Of The Beasts
Featurette-The Beasts Within
Gallery-Photo
Storyboards-6
Notes-Beast Fact Files
Featurette-Production Interviews
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 172:33
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI $49.95 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 No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    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.

    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.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    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.

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

Audio

    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.

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

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

    A herd of Macrochenia are running away from a Smilodon (Sabre Tooth cat), who then rips a paw across the screen. Effective opening to the disc.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    Scenes from each episode, accompanied by the music from the series loop every 60 seconds in an entertaining and well constructed setup. The prompt is a set of Sabre Tooth claw marks.

Featurette - Making of .... - 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced

    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.

Featurette - The Beast Within - 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced

    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.

Gallery-Photo

    Approximately 47 picture from the series.

Storyboards

    Selected scenes from each episode are shown as storyboards:    Interesting, although a lack of comparison to the final images makes this harder to follow.

Notes

    Basically this is a bestiary of the various creatures you'll meet in the series. Details on what they ate, size, location, period they lived in, their lineage and other interesting facts are meted out in an easy-to-read format. This compendium contains details on 32 different species and make an excellent ready-reference.

Featurette - Production Interviews - 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced

    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.

R4 vs R1

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.

Summary

    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.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDRotel RDV995, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

Other Reviews
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region4dvd.net - Darren R (read my bio (fun for the whole family))
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DVDAnswers - Pete R
Web Wombat - James A

Comments (Add)
Very little different to the R1 version -