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May 28, 2011
Human Planet Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Narrator
N/A5/5/2011Village RoadshowJohn Hurt
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1PGMankind!

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You'll never guess what's happening here.

Whenever I get a chance to watch another BBC produced documentary - particularly those involving nature or our planet - I jump at the chance. Spread across 3 Blu-Ray discs this 8-part documentary series looks at how mankind survives in the extremes of the planet - from the harshest deserts, to lush jungles, around the oceans and the freezing Arctic. Indeed it took the filmmakers three years to travel the world and film the 70-odd stories that comprise this series.

Narrated by John Hurt, Human Planet is a celebration of the amazing complex profound and sometimes challenging relationship between humankind and nature. Humans are the ultimate animals - the most successful species on the planet. From the frozen Arctic to steamy rainforests from tiny islands in vast oceans to parched deserts people have found remarkable ways to adapt and survive in the harshest environments imaginable.

  • 1. Oceans: This first episode looks at how humans use and live in or around the world’s oceans including hunting a Sperm Whale in Indonesia, Surfing in Hawaii and Compressor Fishing in the Philippines.
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    Hunting for Sperm Whales in Indonesia...

  • 2. Desert: A large amount of the worlds surface is made up of deserts and this episode looks at cattle herding with elephants in Mali, underground aqueducts in Algeria and camel herding in the Gobi Desert.

  • 3. Arctic: The Arctic episode looks at herding Reindeer in Norway, hunting Narwhals in Greenland and removing Polar Bears in Churchill among other things.

  • 4. Jungles: One of my favourite episodes - and certainly one of the most visually exciting this episode focuses on people living in the jungles around the world and includes segments such as gathering honey in the Congo, filming uncontacted tribes in Brazil, and using Asian elephants to move timber in India.

  • 5. Mountains: This fifth episode focused on the mountainous regions of the world and includes avalanche control in the Swiss Alps, hunting with Golden Eagles in Mongolia, and sulphur mining inside the Ijen volcanic crater in Java.

  • 6. Grasslands: Grasslands includes some great moments as well (that statement could apply to all episodes in fact), but of particular note I loved the segment about the Dorobo people stealing food from a lion pride in Kenya, trapping water snakes in Cambodia and cattle mustering with helicopter in the Australian outback.

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    Human Planet is a stunning documentary series.
    7. Rivers: Another great episode which features segments including travelling the Mekon during a monsoon, fishing on the edge of Victoria Falls and the living bridges of Meghalaya.

  • 8. Cities: Surprisingly what I thought would be one of the strongest episodes was actually one of the weakest with 11 segments meaning you never spend enough time with any segment, although there were some interesting segments including the pigeons and tannery in Fez, using the Falcon in Dubai to control birds, and beekeeping in New York City.

Impressively while these discs include each of the eight episodes which run for about 50 minutes each, this Blu-Ray set includes a bonus "Behind the Scenes" look at each episode as well which run for about 10 minutes each. These often look at the most difficult segments of each episode to film, and these segments are simply superb.

One thing we have to comment on is the menu system on this disc which is probably one of the worst we have seen in some time. It's cumbersome, there's no pop-up menu while the episodes are playing, and the disc actually starts with the English Descriptive Audio track meaning you need to change the audio through the menu or the Blu-Ray player's pop-up options as there is no pop-up menu.

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Cinematography is astounding in Human Planet.
There's no much more we can say about this release other than if you like documentaries, there's no reason to ignore this release at all. Production values are second to none, the stories being told are varied and engrossing. Human Planet is something very special indeed...

There is no doubt that the cinematography in this series is exemplary and exceeds not only almost every other documentary release, but also feature films which have budgets many times this release. Some of the footage captured is simply jaw dropping and if ever there was a documentary to show mankind of this would be it. Colours are vibrant, and the picture always retains a natural, realistic look to it.

On a technical level the film is free of any major issues, and the VC-1 encoding often sites above 30Mbps - with my PS3 even indicating a bit rate in the mid 40Mbps range (yes, technically impossible, but shows the Blu-Ray is certainly maxing out the bitrate at times). The video is presented at a full 1.78:1 aspect ratio which will fill your HDTV. The only niggle is that the video has been encoded in an interlaced format (1920 x 1080i) which introduces some issues, but is handled so well any small shimmering is hard to spot.

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Working with dolphins to go fishing!
One aspect of this release we were very pleased about was the audio. While previous BBC Blu-Ray releases only had lossy audio tracks, Human Planet comes with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (16-bit/48Khz) track. While the surround sound channels are used infrequently this audio track offers crystal clear sound which is critical. Narration from John Hurt is always clear and easy to understand.

The only other audio tracks are an English Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 192kbps. It gets the job done as does the English subtitle track which is accurate to the narration and dialogue within the documentary.

As we have already mentioned after each of the episodes there is a behind the scenes look at one of the segments in each episode which run for about 10 minutes each. Quite often these behind the scenes looks are even more riveting then the main documentary. There are two additional behind the scenes documentaries available on the third disc as well.

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Human Planet travels around the globe for the 80-odd stories.
Fez (10:28/HD): This is a look at the filming in the tannery in Fez - Morocco. Running for just over 10 minutes this is a fascinating look at one of the most unique places in the world.

Volcano (9:51/HD): Certainly one of the best behind the scenes looks is this one - filming inside the Kawah Ijen volcano. Not only dangerous but it gives a closer look at the sulphur miners in Java.

With a runtime of over 8 hours (including extras) Human Planet is one of the most detailed and impressive looks at humans upon this earth. Visually stunning and with amazing stories of survival and aspects of life from around the world. If you have any interest in documentaries at all then we suggest you pick up this stunning release.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.