Wow. Ladies and gentlemen of the high-definition jury, this is what 1080p is supposed to look like. The BBC has been responsible for some impressive programs lately, most famously Planet Earth, which the Discovery Channel picked up in North America and tragically dubbed with Sigourney Weaver as narrator. In spite of its high quality, the length of the BBC’s own five-disc Planet Earth Blu-ray set can be a bit daunting. Almost as if the BBC realized this, it recently released a one-disc, less-than-three-hours Blu-ray Disc called Galapagos. And if you’ve ever wanted to show off that shiny 1080p monitor with nature cinematography, Galapagos is the show with which to do it. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen picture quality this good. Ever. Oh, and the programs are great, too.
Normally I hate opening with picture-quality commentary, because it just seems shallow. With Galapagos, there’s really no other way to begin. When the BBC traveled to the equatorial islands off South America’s West coast, the team went equipped with a phalanx of high-definition cameras. It shows. The wildlife in the Galapagos islands, most of which is featured in these three episodes, is spectacular, colorful and at times bizarre. Capturing that uniqueness is paramount to communicating the character of the islands, and the high-definition cameras do so with aplomb. From the individual feathers on a blue-footed booby to the dragon-like scales above a marine iguana’s eyes, no detail is overlooked, and each is transferred flawlessly via the disc’s VC-1 encoding. Brilliant blues, deep dark tones and blindingly bright oranges pop off the screen with no over-saturation or blur, and the contrast on the animals is astounding.
Galapagos is a “miniseries” of sorts comprised of three episodes: Born of Fire, Islands that Changed the World, and Forces of Change. Appropriately, each episode has a certain evolutionary theme to it, and in fact the order of the episodes goes from birth to death, which closes the loop. As a BBC production, Galapagos is of course instructional in nature, but the diversity of instruction in these episodes is a pleasant surprise. Born of Fire (49:04) deals with the Galapagos” creation over a volcanic hot spot (much like Hawaii and other tropical island chains) and uses wildlife and environmental examples to illustrate how the age of the islands has a direct correlation to the ecosystem on each. The episode spends most of its screen time and narration focused on wildlife, but the “geology lite” exposition serves as a nice refresher for those of us who learned about tectonics in college, and as a gentle lesson for those who didn’t (or haven’t yet).
Islands that Changed the World (48:58), on the other hand, uses wildlife and environmental examples to illustrate how human’s perception of the islands evolved from “hell on Earth” to a living laboratory that Charles Darwin used to expand his now widely accepted theory of evolution. This episode is the first time in the series where humans are shown at all, and although seeing people in period costume is at first jarring, after three or four minutes it’s almost as natural as watching a historical re-creation. Almost. The third and final episode, Forces of Change (48:49), brings the program to a close, as it deals with the various elements (wind, waves, rain, heat) that have contributed and will continue to contribute to the erosion of the Galapagos islands. Following the format of the first two episodes, Forces of Change uses the environment and animals to illustrate the effects of erosion, and it appropriately showcases how wildlife has adapted to meet the challenge of this evolving landscape.
But for all the information and evolutionary views shared in these three episodes, not a single one can top the literal view of seeing these Galapagos images on a 1080p-capable television. Galapagos has a main menu, three episodes and a penchant for easy instruction. There are no bonus features, no deleted scenes, no narrator outtakes, and the audio is only in two-channel digital output. None of that matters. As an educational treat, an entertaining diversion and a visual showcase, the Galapagos simply can’t be topped. If you or anyone in your household is remotely interested in Mother Nature, make sure you buy this Blu-ray Disc. Sure, the BBC will thank you, but more important, you’ll thank yourself.