• Yellowstone: The Battle For Life (Blu-ray)



    Released by: Warner Bros.
    Released On: 9/29/09

    The Movie:

    By this point in the game, everyone knows that the BBC nature documentaries are some of the best in the business. Planet Earth turned a whole lot of people on to just how exciting some of this material can be and how beautiful it can look in high definition when captured by such talented photographers. The latest in the (thankfully) seemingly endless line is Yellowstone: The Battle For Life. Rather than detail the history of the park, a topic already covered quite well and in plenty of detail by Ken Burns in his National Parks: America’s Best Idea series, this three episode collection takes a look at the animal life that calls this unique area of the country home and how the environment they live in impacts them.

    The series starts off with a bang as it shows us how incredibly harsh winter conditions can be in the area. We witness an elk fending off an entire pack of hungry wolves by standing in water so cold that they can’t go into it for fear of death. We witness a heard of massive bison essentially working as living snow plows, shifting massive banks around with their heads in search of whatever plants they may uncover underneath. The lack of food and shelter for these and plenty of other animals makes winter a real bitch to survive, yet plenty of species manage to do just that thanks to some clever instinct and crafty survival tactics.

    Spring arrives, the ice and snow melt, and a whole new world is basically reborn. Small woodland creatures zip around the forest floor while birds patrol the skies over top. Larger animals make their way to through the fields and the forests, as predator and prey engage in the everlasting game of survival. Plenty of babies are born as the summer months come closer, only to see the park begin to prepare again for winter once fall moves in.

    While this is a fairly typical documentary in that it simply shows us ‘a year in the life of’ footage, it’s so incredibly well shot and compellingly presented that it becomes exciting and hard to turn off. Narrated with plenty of class and a complete lack of pretension by Peter Firth, the spoken words do a great job of setting up each set piece and putting it all into context while some excellent editing provides the whole thing with a perfect flow.

    Of course, the real reason to watch this isn’t the narration so much, as it is the footage. The BBC’s got a pretty solid reputation to live up to each time they release a new nature documentary as Planet Earth, Wild Pacific and Nature’s Most Amazing Events have all set the bar pretty high. Thankfully Yellowstone delivers footage just as remarkable as those that came before it. Alongside the compelling animal material we also get some absolutely stunning shots of the local geography, the geysers in particular. If there’s one complaint that can be levied against this set it’s that the almost three hours of material just doesn’t feel like enough. There’s more that could have been done here that would have been just as interesting as what made the final cut as what’s here is so good that you can’t help but wish there’d been a few more hours worth to digest.

    Video/Audio/Extras

    Yellowstone arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080i high definition AVC encoded transfer that is, unfortunately, just a little bit inconsistent. There are shots in this set that will blow you away with crystal clear clarity and a remarkable amount of fine detail and then there are shots that look soft a don't impress quite as much. Thankfully the majority of the material here looks fantastic, which makes the softer bits all the more noticeable even if they are the exception and not the rule. Some minor authoring quirks show up here and there - you'll notice some very slight compression artifacts if you look for them as well as a little bit of trailing now and again - but these are infrequent. The color reproduction is pretty much flawless, however, and the black levels are nice and strong. While this transfer isn't perfect, it is definitely a very good effort, if just a bit uneven.

    The only audio option on this release is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 track that comes with subtitles available in English only. While this is definitely a front heavy mix, you’ll notice the score spread out across the entire mix to nice effect, which helps to increase the tension in some scenes. The levels are well balanced, the narration is nice and clear, and while this isn’t an overly aggressive mix, it’s a well produced one that sounds good from start to finish.

    The BBC has included three standard definition featurettes on this release starting with the ten minute Jeff Henry: The Snowman segment which takes a look at the experiences of a local nature photographer who helped out on this production. The second featurette, the ten minute Mike Kasic: The Fishman explores the exploits of one of the sound technicians employed for the production while the eleven minute Geyser Gazers includes some discussion with a group of geyser experts that were enlisted to help the BBC team photograph and document the park’s geysers in the best way possible. It would have been nice to see this material in HD and to see more of it, but what’s here is reasonably interesting and worth checking out. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included.

    The Final Word:

    Fascinating, educational, compelling and tense, Yellowstone: The Battle For Life is as gripping as the best nature documentaries out there and the BBC have done a great job on the Blu-ray release, even if the extras are a little on the light side.