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Remarkable achievement with minor limitations,
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This review is from: Planet Earth: Complete BBC Series [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)Documentary: 5/5, Picture: 3-5/5, Extras: 4/5
Planet Earth takes a rather different approach to Sir David Attenborough's previous Life series: instead of taking a species or phylum, it explores a particular habitat. This is not so much a geological study of the Earth but rather a broad survey of the rarely seen or visited habitats and their inhabitants, with an emphasis on how they adapt to the forces of nature. At times it looks more like showing off spectacular scenery than a systematic study. Coverage is by no means exhaustive but what is presented is truly remarkable. Episode one takes you from the South to the North Pole, passing the various forest ecosystems and desserts in between and is a preview of later episodes.
If you have watched the Life series and the BBC's Blue Planet you will notice some familiarity in Planet Earth. There are recurrent themes on survival and adaptive behaviour. I am constantly reminded of and impressed by the resilience of life.
Memorable shots are too many to mention but polar bear cubs exploring the snowy slopes, the great white shark leaping out of water (with footage slowed down 40 times) and snow covered mountains come to mind. I particularly like the aerial views.
PICTURE: VC-1 1080p 16:9
The main feature IS "1080/24p", as indicated by my Pioneer BD player. The production for broadcast is mastered in 25p from various framerates (details on bbcresources.com); the PAL DVD is in 50i (equivalent to 25p) and each episode runs for 48 minutes (excluding the extras) compared to 50 minutes on Blu-ray. So the Blu-ray runtime is in keeping with a 25p to 24p slowdown. The 1080i v. 1080p feud has been blown out of all proportions. For the material shot on video the HD cameras used in the early 2000s were mostly 720p; note it says on the back "some footage was not captured in full HD". While a lot of scenes are spectacular there are occasional artefacts. People who find Blu-ray to be softer than HD broadcast have incorrect set-up somewhere in the video signal chain: it is not the fault of the Blu-ray.
THE NARRATION AND SOUND TRACK (Dolby Digital 5.1)
The background narration is occasionally too soft. The script is very well written, full of interesting statistics and entirely appropriate without being verbose. The music when present adds to the serenity of the magnificent scenery or the drama of hunting scenes. Subtitles are in English only.
THE SUBSTITUTED EXTRAS (1080/60i)
Regrettably this release does not have the original DVD extras: the 10 minute "Diaries" at the end of each episode and the 'Planet Earth - The Future' feature (2h56') and people felt let down. The "Dairies" are interesting and the message on the state of the planet is of course important and the BBC underestimated the viewer's sentiment. But the extras included here, Dessert Lions and Snow Leopards (the subject of DVD episode 2 "Diaries") from the BBC's Natural World in HD are interesting programmes in their own right and more amenable to repeated viewing. The biologist who tagged collars on the snow leopards died recently so that makes it even more valuable to watch. But it would be better to give us the original extras and have Natural World on a separate release.
WHICH VERSION TO GET?
The US Discovery Channel version is truncated and has an American non-naturalist narrator so that is a non-starter. This UK version has the same encoding as the US BBC/Warner four-disc version (both region free) but has the extras on a fifth disc and hence the best value. If you cannot live without the original extras then borrow the DVD.
I would now recommend the Special Edition instead as it has the Diaries and more extra features at similar price, but note the main episodes are 1080i50 (the original broadcast frame-rate) and the Diaries are 576i50. There is an American SE version in 1080i60 over there.
A MUST-HAVE FOR EVERY BLU-RAY LIBRARY
Just marvel at the contents: once you understand the technical issues you will realise that whatever technical limitations there are they are really of no great significance here.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Oct 2009 19:06:41 BDT
J. Simonsen says:
What about if the film was recorded in film-strip. You know analog exposure. You will get a MUCH MUCH more higher resolution with film strip. And we all know that film strip is recorded at 24 frames per second. Thats why this movie shows 24p on your Blu-ray player. So that is better quality then 25 frames per second. Because if 24 film strip movies is shown at 25 frames per second you would see intermidiate frames, or blended frames so to speak. So 24p at 1080p on Blu-ray is the best picture quality you can get!
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Nov 2009 06:00:08 GMT
T. Wei says:
Thank you for your comments.
Yes you were correct in saying film has a higher resolution than 1080p on Blu-ray and is normally recorded at 24 frames per second. For a feature film released on Blu-ray this is of course the best frame rate but this is not the simple or only reason why PE on Blu-ray is 1080p24.
According to this short BBC article (see reference below), PE was recorded with both film and HD cameras and finally was "produced at 25p". Presumably this was chosen to match the UK broadcasting standard of 25p/50i and as it happens, 50i is also the UK PAL SD DVD field rate.
As I mentioned in my review, the runtime of the Blu-ray, 50 min. showing at 24fps (1080p24) is consistent with a slowdown from the 25p/50i source as judged from the runtime of the PAL DVD, 48 min. (excluding the dairies at the end of each episode). Professional studios have the equipment to speed up or slow down between 24fps and 25fps easily without re-encoding and creation of interpolated frames. I'm not from the BBC but I believe this is the way they did it.
I don't know what exactly happened to the material shot originally with film: was the 24fps simply sped up to 25fps for editing? If so then the original 24fps clips would have gone back and forth from 24 to 25 back to 24 on Blu-ray.
Note that even when PE was produced at 25p as it was, it would not have been possible to release the Blu-ray as 1080p25 as the Blu-ray specifications wouldn't allow it. Either it would have to be released in 1080i50 which most American players and TVs don't support (and some in Europe would then complain that it is interlaced not progressive), or as dual standard - 1080i50 in Europe and re-encoded 1080i60 for the US, or simply slowed down to 24 fps for everyone.
Reference (previously on bbcresources.com):
In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2010 16:03:24 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Dec 2010 16:07:20 GMT
Thanks for that detailed review about the resolutions, frame rates, etc. Really helpful!
Just one question to clear my head before I order the,
Planet Earth: Complete BBC Series [Blu-ray] 
will it play in the US. I live in the US and just want to clarify if it will play in my US Blu ray player.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2011 00:41:00 GMT
T. Wei says:
Sorry I didn't see your question earlier. This particular version which I reviewed above is 1080p24 and region free and there are no 50i clips so it is playable in all US BD players.
Note that there is now a special edition: Planet Earth - Special Edition [Blu-ray]  which is 1080i50. This is the native resolution as broadcast in the UK and in a way proves my point made before that the previous 1080p24 version is a slowdown version.
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