The BBC for years has been known for fantastic programming, but it wasn’t until the Discovery Channel’s repurposed Planet Earth series that the BBC really took off among the current generation of TV- and movie-watchers. Following Planet Earth, of course, presents nothing less than a monumental challenge, but the BBC embraced that challenge head-on with a comparatively small production that focuses on just a single national park.
Fortunately for the BBC — and for viewers who watch this incredible three-episode series — the BBC’s new outing is focused on Yellowstone National Park. This gorgeous Park provides not only a fantastic visual backdrop from this natural documentary, but a geological gem with which the BBC’s producers could weave a tale that has much more narrative flow than Planet Earth and in some respects even manages to outshine the Earth-inspired juggernaut.
The specific location and shorter format of Yellowstone: Battle for Life allow the producers to focus on minutia to an even greater degree in this newest film, giving a much more distinct feeling of intimacy with the subject matter. From following a pack of animals to tracking the natural cycle of the season, Yellowstone: Battle for Life elicits a connection not unlike that in March of the Penguins.
The three 49-minute episodes focus on the three real seasons in Yellowstone: Winter, Summer and Autumn. Although the landscape is the same in each, the differences between these seasons is remarkable, and BBC’s new Blu-ray Disc shows those changes with stunning beauty. The animals, too, change in behavior, and like the landscape, they’re on such remarkable display and in such gorgeous context that it’s hard not to feel as though you’re the one behind the camera and yourself.
Broken up by seasons, Yellowstone: Battle for Life follows the trials, tribulation and evolution of the landscape and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park. The subtitle about survival seems trite at first, but once you make it through the third episode, you gain a new appreciation and understanding of why the subtitle makes perfect sense. To say Yellowstone is harsh is about the biggest disservice one could do to the natural wonders and challenges of this Park.
Not surprisingly, a few aspects of Yellowstone are repeated/shared between the three episodes, most notably explanations of the Park’s geological history and the related impact on the environment and wildlife. Other than these three-minute sequences, though, each episode feels fresh and wholly unique, which is a testament both to the filmmakers’ ability and to the Park’s diverse nature.
The audio in Yellowstone: Battle for Life doesn’t necessarily do the Blu-ray format justice, but that’s mostly because of the nature of the video. Driven primarily by voiceovers from Peter Firth, The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.the audio track picks up some small aural details from the wildlife and environments, but the Disc is truly driven more by its narrative, pacing and video than it is its uncompressed audio. The lone exception to this rule is any scene with water, all of which give the subwoofer an incredible workout. If ever you’ve stood underneath or behind a waterfall, you know exactly what you’re in for with this audio: booming, crashing and thunderous scenes that give you a feeling of place like no other nature film before them.
There are only three 10-minute Extra Features in this set, but they all manage to be informative in spite of their unfortunate filming in standard definition. The first, Jeff Henry: The Snowman, is a mini biography of sorts about Yellowstone National Park ranger Jeff Henry, whose obsession with (and jobs related to) snow helped the BBC crew identify the best places to capture the Park in the winter. This feature also explores how Henry does his job clearing snow from the Park. In Geyser Gazers, the second of the three Extras, viewers learn how the BBC crew setup their picturesque geyser shots and the struggles they endured to capture all the amazing imagery in this miniseries. It also introduces viewers to the locals who acted as guides for the BBC crew and lent their first-hand knowledge of geyser schedules and “personalities.” And in the third Extra, Mike Kasic: The Fishman, viewers learn more about the man who helped BBC capture its fish scenes through his extensive knowledge of Yellowstone’s waterways and fish.
But extras aren’t really why people will consider picking up the BBC’s newest Blu-ray Disc. Rather, it’s the core subject matter itself, which is expertly presented and masterfully edited. Although Planet Earth never felt as though it meandered, Yellowstone: Battle for Life definitely feels more concise and well-paced, and when you combine that with the exquisite picture quality and compelling subject matter, what nature lovers have here is yet another a must-own documentary from the BBC.
Buy Yellowstone: Battle for Life on Blu-ray from Amazon.
- Score: 9
— Jonas Allen