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Best of Travel: South Africa(TV) (2010)
Three episodes from 'Rudy Maxa's World' are included on this compilation, visiting various places in South Africa.
For more about Best of Travel: South Africa and the Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray release, see Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 31, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 31, 2011
A lot of people might recognize Rudy Maxa's name mostly from radio, due to both The Savvy Traveler and his later long running weekend travel show Rudy Maxa's World, but Maxa has had a television presence for decades, including a relatively recent television series with the same name as his radio outing. Maxa joins other public television regulars like Rick Steves and Richard Bangs, affable, low key tour guides who don't inject themselves too far into the proceedings to get in the way of the scenery, but who nonetheless are able to provide context and commentary as it's needed. Maxa's television work is being released in compilations by Questar under the banner Best of Travel, and this particular compendium collects three episodes about various locations in South Africa. Maxa delves into some of the political turmoil which has roiled South Africa, without devoting so much of the content to that sad history that the country's many triumphs and pleasures are completely overlooked.
The three episodes included on this Blu-ray are:
Maxa gives us a quick historical rundown on this gorgeous city occupying the northern edge of the Cape Peninsula on the Cape of Good Hope. Founded as a way station in 1651 by the Dutch East India Company, Capetown has the unique distinction of having been put there as a place to grow vegetables to help prevent scurvy. It quickly became the nexus of the cultures of three continents. With the advent of both diamond and gold rushes, as well as the more nefarious advent of slavery, the town saw the influx of millions. The city became infamous of course in the 20th century as the chief example of the horrifying practice of apartheid, and though that practice thankfully ended in the 1990's, vestiges of the racial divide still haunt the city. Despite its less than laudable history, Capetown is turning rather quickly into South Africa's own version of California, and is often referred to as Africa's Riviera. Maxa spends quite a bit of time on Table Mountain, the distinctive flat-topped mountain that backs the city and provides a sort of Cliffside background the nestles in behind the city and the ocean. We learn that the regular fog that rolls in around Table Mountain is referred to by locals as the Tablecloth, and we get a firsthand look at how evocative this mist is up close and personal. A couple of very touching moments in this episode are offered when Maxa visits old racially divided districts which are still suffering from incredible poverty. What is so striking about these sequences is how big hearted the native South Africans are, beautiful and generous spirits who seem to want to focus on the future rather than the sordid, often sad, spectacle of South Africa's past.
Maxa spends a busy week at a resort within the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve and spends some of every day spotting wildlife out in the expansive confines of the Reserve. Right off the bat Maxa and his guides catch sight of a dead (and rather bloody) carcass of an antelope that must have just been killed by a lion. The lions are found a few miles away, having already feasted and moved on to their naps. It turns out lions can sleep 20-22 hours a day due to their high protein diet which takes a lot of sleep to "work" off. Though Maxa only refers to this in passing, it may prick up some viewers' ears to hear him laud Kwandwe as being a malaria free game reserve, but that is obviously something tourists need to be aware of. One of the interesting thing about Kwandwe is that the goal of the Reserve is to return the land to the state it was in a couple of hundred years ago. Once teeming with wildlife, the area has seen increasing development and the slow but steady increasing dearth of various species. Several species have been reintroduced into the Reserve and now are slowly rebuilding their numbers to the point where they aren't endangered, or at least as endangered, as they once were. Maxa also gives us a quick looksee at the luxurious resort where he stays, a resort which funnels money back into the community. The staff also sings and dances, part of a tradition that sees staffs from other resorts competing with each other for prizes.
Garden Route & Wine Country
In some ways the most picturesque of the three episodes included on this Blu-ray, this outing sees Maxa taking a nice hike along the ocean's edge as part of what is known as the Garden Route. Carved in between the ocean and the mountains, this long path can actually be traversed in a day, but as Maxa asks, "Why would you want to?" He takes the path from the Storms River to Mossel Bay, stopping to literally smell the roses along the way. He visits the Robberg Nature Reserve, where somewhat scary paths are carved into a sheer cliff face. There are actually three hiking routs of various difficulties which travelers can choose from, but in a kind of interesting twist, some parts of this journey have limits on how many people can actually be on the path at the same time, so reservations are required. One kind of comical moment in this episode comes from Maxa visiting Bloukrans Bridge, the world's highest bungie jumping location. A sort of cage enclosed walkway leads out to where the jumpers depart from the side of the bridge, but Maxa can't even bring himself to get out the whole way before his nerves take over and he quickly—well carefully—retreats. He gets to relax in a somewhat less high retreat when he spends the night in a very cool, ultra-luxurious "tree house" hotel. The last part of this episode is devoted to South Africa's growing wine industry, and Maxa visits the world famous Franschoek, a sort of French Quarter founded Dutch Huguenots attempting to escape religious persecution. He also dines at the equally famous restaurant Le Quartier Francaise.
Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray, Video Quality
I was a bit surprised to see a pull quote on the cover of this new Blu-ray about its image quality. While that may not sound particularly odd, what struck me as unusual is that it was a pull quote from Blu-ray.com, and obviously we hadn't yet reviewed this title. It turns out the fine folks at Questar, who obviously know an informed opinion when they read one, have utilized this same quote on all sorts of their product over the past couple of years. The quote reads "A beautiful visual experience," and so to make the review of this particular title conform with Blu-ray.com's previously stated opinion on another Questar title, I'm happy to report that South Africa's AVC encoded 1080p transfer (in 1.78:1) is, indeed, a beautiful visual experience. (I feel like I've wandered into one of those convoluted science fiction movies where the ending twists around to the beginning). It's unusual for these BDs culled from television fare to be granted a full 1080p transfer, and that helps up the image quality here substantially. Colors are often bold and very robust, fine detail is incredible, especially with regard to landscapes and some close-ups of wildlife, and the overall image is very sharp and clear.
Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While South Africa's lossy standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix suffices pretty well for this series, "Capetown" especially could have benefited from at least a lossless stereo track (if not a full surround mix) due to its nice music segments highlighting some popular local bands. On the whole, though, this is typically narration driven fare, and as such, there's not a lot to complain about with this DD 2.0 mix. Maxa's voice is clear, and his interview subjects are also well presented. Some of the ambient noises no doubt would have had more oomph with a lossless track, but there's nothing downright horrible here, other than a missed opportunity.
Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements per se are included on the Blu-ray, but as is Questar's usual practice, this title comes in a Combo Pak also featuring a DVD and digital copy.
Best of Travel: South Africa Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Questar is still feeling its way with its Blu-ray slate, and South Africa shows both what the label is doing right with its releases, as well as how it could improve. From the "needs improvement" standpoint, Questar's authoring house still handles menus extremely peculiarly, with flashes back and forth between 1080i and 1080p content (which even some high end systems need to pause for a moment to load and adjust for), and a non-intuitive and cumbersome connection between menus, submenus and chapters. Also problematic is the inability to chapter skip ahead on at least some items, like the brief interstitial promos for other series Questar distributes. On the plus side, it's great to get a television travel show in full 1080p, and South Africa looks spectacular. Questar needs to up the ante from an audio standpoint, though, and start providing at least lossless stereo options, if not full surround mixes. This particular release benefits from a very interesting set of locales along with the unusual human interest stories that accompany South Africa's racially charged history. Maxa makes for an appealing, low key host, and this release taken as a whole is Recommended.
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