WILD CHINA  [Blu-ray] The amazing scenery and wildlife of China have always been closed to the preying cameras of Natural History filmmakers – until now. Given unprecedented access to the vast country, the renowned BBC Natural History Unit has produced a series full of breath-taking footage and amazing discoveries.
From the glittering peaks of the Himalayas to the teeming waters of the South China Sea. China encompasses a dazzling range of landscapes. The peaks, rainforests, deserts and caves of this vast and enigmatic country are home to a diverse array of wildlife ranging from giant pandas, tigers and golden snub-nosed monkeys to wild swans, whales sharks and beautiful tropical flowers.
As we travel through the deepest river-gorge in the world, watch fishermen using captive cormorants to gather fish and discover the remarkable Pallas' pip vipers that pluck birds from the air. It is clear, that, this amazing country is ready to reveal the most incredible wildlife surprises. Narrated by Bernard Hill.
Directors: Charlotte Scott, Gavin Maxwell, George Chan, Kathryn Jeffs and Phil Chapman
Producers: Brian Leith, Charlotte Scott, Gavin Maxwell, George Chan, Giles Badger, Hannah Boot, Jeff Boedeker, Kathryn Jeffs, Phil Chapman, Sue Norton and Xiaoping Gao
Screenplay: Gavin Maxwell and George Chan
Composer: Barnaby Taylor
Cinematography: Barrie Britton, Brian McDairmant, Justin Maguire, Mike Lemmon, Rod Clarke, Sam Gracey and Shane Moore
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH and Mandarin [Traditional]
Running Time: 351 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 2
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: 'Wild China' opens with subtle grace. In its first episode, "Heart of the Dragon," the series travels to the rice paddies of South China and reveals some of the oldest known man-made structures in the world. From there, we get to see harvesting rituals in Guizhou, a community living in caves near Zhongdong, and traditional fisherman practicing their craft on the Li River. Along the way, a variety of birds, endangered primates, turtles, and other wildlife capture the crew's imagination and attention. "Shangri-La" moves to the base of the Himalayas and the Nujiang River. After documenting the lush plant life of the region, the second episode moves on to the snowy stretches of Kawakarpo, the diverse ecosystem of the Gaoligong Mountains, and the many cultures that inhabit the surrounding Yunnan province. Not only do elephants, jungle mammals, small apes, and other creatures make prominent appearances, but the NHU begins to look at the ever-intrusive presence of China's expanding cities.
Carefully sidestepping the more controversial elements of its political struggles, "Tibet" focuses on the Qingzang Plateau, the Buddhists who call it home, and the intriguing religious practices that influence everything in the region. More interestingly, the climate changes dramatically over the course of a few miles, leaving a variety of species to live side-by-side with humans. Moving across the Plateau, the crew devotes coverage to yaks, foxes, bears, and snakes, as well as the hot springs, freezing deserts, and vast hillsides of the area. "Beyond the Great Wall" heads north to the regions situated around... you guessed it... the Great Wall of China. More than a dry investigation into the construction and purpose of the Wall, this episode turns its eye to the ice fisherman of Manchuria, Mongolian horsemen who call miles of grassland home, and the shifting sands of the Taklimakan Desert. It also follows herds of reindeer, rare gazelle, wild horses, and trained eagles used for hunting.
As the series draws to a close, "Land of the Panda" turns to the Mandarin-speaking peoples of Central China. This episode delves into the tenuous relationship between man and beast, as well as civilization and the natural kingdom. It not only dedicates time to China's economy and political history, it weaves in tales of nearly-extinct alligators, revered animals in Beijing, and the pandas and endangered animals of the Qinling Mountains. Finally, "Tides of Change" traces China's coast, stopping along the way to spend time with migrating birds, jellyfish, crabs, and white dolphins. It even gives a glimpse into the lives of fisherman, oyster harvesters, and island dwellers. While it doesn't offer enough thematic closure to the series as a whole, it nevertheless does its job as another engaging episode.
`Wild China' is a stunning gorgeous and awesome documentary packed to the brim with remarkable cultures, captivating factoids, and totally awesome stunning breath-taking photography. While the series gives a thorough and extensive overview of China's people, animals, and societies, it doesn't dig into its more controversial political decisions, economic issues, human rights violations, or relations with other nations. Each episode has brief glimpses into each, but the production isn't willing to cross its established line and take its investigation any deeper. As a result, this particular visit to China occasionally comes across like a tourist video rather than a scrupulous study of the sprawling nation. Granted, these elements are hardly to the point and I wouldn't expect the BBC Natural History Unit to devote much time to them.
`Wild China' accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and gives a revealing glimpse into the far corners of the country. Once again, I have no idea how the BBC Natural History managed to capture some of the imagery that fills the documentary and, once again, I was bowled over by the riches and wonders of another culture. In my humble opinion, anyone with the faintest interest in China or the Asian mainland should give this documentary a spin. It may take a while to soak it all in, but the experience is well worth the investment.
Blu-ray Video Quality – The BBC have achieved another beautiful high definition production on this Blu-ray, and their documentary work never ceases to amaze the viewer. Going to great lengths to capture rare moments on film, the perseverance of the filmmakers and camera crew pays off in a grand fashion on this series. Encoded in 1080i, the focus on detail is apparent throughout the production. My favourite shot technique, used frequently in `Wild China' and several other BBC Natural History Unit productions, is an ultra-close-up that focuses the viewer on the colours, textures, and inherent beauty of the subjects, be they natural or artificial in origin. Although the picture is interlaced, it still contains a clarity that is hard to believe, given the filming access difficulty for much of the content. Aside from the slight softness lent by the interlaced picture, there is a small amount of colour banding noticeable here and there. Not surprising, given the high amount of rich, saturated colours that are present. Black levels are deep and satisfying, and never bloom and remain clear and intense. Texture is picked up beautifully, whether in long shots or the aforementioned ultra-close-ups. In short, `Wild China' boasts a superb, trademark BBC picture quality on this Blu-ray presentation.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – `Wild China' is impressive visual presentation is aided by a single 5.1 Dolby Digital track, which is more or less the standard for BBC high definition releases. It is a satisfactory offering that informs and mesmerises the. Ambiance is present for wildlife sequences, and likewise that of rural or nomadic human communities, but it's somewhat difficult to distinguish in the rears. Bernard Hill's rich, somewhat impassive narration, is kept to the centre channel, and is always clear. As an aside, his pronunciation of the many Chinese location names and titles is impressively spoken, flowing effortless from his tongue and causing the curious to reach for the English subtitle option. The score in the series is beautifully composed, taking its place in the ranks of nicely-done music for the BBC's documentary subjects. Never too brazen or pervasive, the strings-heavy pieces float along with each episode. It is a shame that the score isn't allowed to break beyond the confines of its compressed Dolby Digital mix.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Special Feature: Hunting Dragons – The Making of Wild China  [1080p] This is the only extra feature on this Blu-ray release; a standard definition venture that runs about 27 minutes. In it, the challenge of obtaining some of the breath-taking shots in the series are explored, such as running a camera down a zip-line over a roaring river. Other difficulties are also discussed at length, such as traveling to remote locations via roughly-lain roads, or by camelback. One instance found the filmmakers at the bottom of a gorge after two days' worth of hiking, only to discover the camera broken after their descent. Language barriers were also, understandably, an issue. Clearly, everyone involved in the production of Wild China is extremely passionate about their work. Although `Hunting Dragons' may not be the most in-depth look at the filming process of the series, it is sufficient in showing the hardships endured to create it.
Finally, `Wild China' is another example of the brilliant professional work that BBC's Natural History Unit achieves almost effortlessly. The sheer amount of detail and carefully composed shots demonstrates a real appreciation for aesthetics and a stringently high level of production values. The results are superb examples of what can be achieved with the documentary format - educational material that is equally entertaining and awe-inspiring. China enjoys an odd dichotomy of sorts within the international community; it is so ubiquitous through its exports, and so geographically expansive, yet it is all the same so enigmatic and so closed to the world outside. This BBC Natural History production helps to open eyes to the beauty and ancient legacy of the country, and it looks stunning in high definition. It is not difficult to recommend this as a well-produced content and as a very nice Blu-ray package and I originally saw this on BBC Two in the United Kingdom and was totally bowled over by the stunning presentation at the time of the broadcast and this Blu-ray disc brings the images even more in an awesome experience and it knocked my socks off and it has now gone pride of place in my ever expanding BBC EARTH Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom