The Ballad of Big Al (2001)

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Released 7-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Storyboard Comparisons
DVD-ROM Extras-Walking With Dinosaurs CD-ROM Sampler
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 58:24
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 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 Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    A matter of a few years ago, scientists discovered a rare thing in Wyoming: an almost complete Allosaur skeleton, with enough of the bones having been found to tell that the young Allosaur was in the equivalent of his late teens when he died, and he would have reached full adulthood in about twenty years if he'd lived that long. It's amazing how much one can tell about animals from looking at their skeletons, and almost as amazing how one can reconstruct the life of these creatures through the use of digital animation. Essentially, The Ballad Of Big Al is a companion piece to the fascinating Walking With Dinosaurs two-disc set, and one worth considering if you enjoyed the latter.

    The Ballad Of Big Al concerns itself with the life of a dinosaur, the same one whose skeleton was recovered in Wyoming, and it details a fascinating picture of how this one Allosaur lived from birth to death. With narration by Kenneth Branagh, Big Al's life story is told year by year as he grows, forages for good, tries in vain to attract mates, and eventually dies, but is preserved by a remarkable feat of nature. Once you get done with this twenty-nine minute program, you can also take a good look at The Science Of Big Al, which details how Al's bones were discovered, and how we can learn so much from studying their fossils. The smaller scale of this production, and the concentration on a singular dinosaur, gives this programme an intimate, personal feel that was somewhat lacking in Walking With Dinosaurs.

    If you have children who are in their early years of school, or have a passing interest in palaeontology, then The Ballad Of Big Al will make an excellent addition to your library. It doesn't hurt matters any that the overall presentation is excellent, with such life-like visuals that I wouldn't be surprised to see this disc getting used for demonstration purposes.

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Transfer Quality


    This disc contains two main features, each running for just over twenty-nine minutes. Both of them are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and they are both 16x9 Enhanced.

    The sharpness of this transfer is excellent overall, with the Jurassic Wyoming environment coming to life in a manner that just isn't possible on any other format. It would not surprise me to learn that, given the recent vintage of these documentaries, the BBC had high-definition broadcasting in mind when they commissioned these films. However, The Science Of Big Al also comprises some footage taken of the site where the skeleton was discovered, and this footage tends to be of poor quality. The zoom on a desert road at 1:13 during this documentary about the making of the documentary is a good example of this, with fine details looking like a nasty analogue smear. The shadow detail, although rarely called for, is excellent, and there is no low-level noise.

    The colour scheme in The Ballad Of Big Al tends to emphasise dull, earthy hues, with most of the action taking place in a desert environment. This scheme is captured without a hiccup by the transfer, although the aforementioned archival footage during The Science Of Big Al exhibits a small amount of smearing. Like the blurred look of this archival footage, the problem is inherent in the source material.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem at all in this transfer, which is to be expected with programming of such a modest length. Film-to-video artefacts were mild, with such elements as greenery and rock surfaces with hard lines exhibiting a tendency towards aliasing that was just barely noticeable. The only serious aliasing occurred at 21:07 during The Science Of Big Al, when an Allosaur runs along a track with several humans. All things considered, this artefact was extremely well-controlled, and the picture will look so natural and film-like on a progressive display that it could make a brave man weep. Film artefacts consisted of some small white marks towards the end of The Science Of Big Al, but the rest of both documentaries were exceptionally clean.

    The subtitles are very accurate to the spoken dialogue, and it is mostly spoken beautifully, although a few phrases get rendered differently. This is only a slight annoyance, however, since the information being conveyed remains intact.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at almost all times, with Kenneth Branagh's narration coming across in a smooth and beautiful way that one would expect from this actor. The only time when the dialogue became difficult to understand was when one palaeontologist was interviewed about the baby Allosaur bones that he'd found, with his accent or enunciation making him a little hard to follow. Thankfully, he is only on for about two minutes. There were no problems with audio sync.

    The music in this documentary is credited to Ben Bartlett, and it does a good job of complementing the visual aspect of the documentary. It is not especially remarkable, but neither is it especially bad, so I can't really complain there.

    The surround channels were not used by this soundtrack at all, which is something of a pity. The subwoofer was not specifically encoded into the soundtrack, but it did come alive at the dinosaur footsteps, with my processor redirecting signal into the LFE channel because it seemed like the right thing to do. Given the way in which dinosaur movements would be expected to shake one's floor, it is somewhat disappointing that we don't get a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu features some well-executed animation and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, as do both scene selection menus. They are 16x9 Enhanced.

Photo Gallery

    This photo gallery contains pictures of the Big Al skeleton, computer generations of what a living Allosaur would look like, and other assorted pieces of interest. The most welcome feature in this gallery, however, is the annotation.

Storyboard Comparisons

    When this feature is selected, a five minute and fifteen second featurette of scenes from The Ballad Of Big Al, with storyboards imposed over them, plays back. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and an irritatingly loud, hissy Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

DVD-ROM Extras

    Essentially, this is just a sampler of the Walking With Dinosaurs CD-ROM. Once I had it installed, I proceeded to have a look at the sampler, and found that aside from some desktop items and some video, there wasn't a lot to this sampler at all.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version of this disc is being marketed under the title of Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special, and is more-or-less identical to our version. Both discs feature the same extras, and it would seem that the two transfers are more or less equal. The local disc is, of course, significantly cheaper.


    The Ballad Of Big Al makes such Disney flicks as Dinosaur utterly redundant, simply by telling the cold, hard facts and using superior animation techniques to depict an excellent story. The Science Of Big Al goes one better by giving a brief forensic analysis of Big Al's life, explaining how the scientists could have learned so much from the fossils. If you only ever buy one documentary about prehistoric animals, then this is the one to look for.

    The video transfer is excellent, with only a few instances of aliasing to complain about.

    The audio transfer is very good, but I can't help wondering what a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack could have done to enhance the proceedings.

    The extras are minimal.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Saturday, September 08, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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