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North America(TV) (2013)
North America: where civilization collides with untamed wilderness. Just feet beyond our own back yards rages a spectacle we rarely see. Step into this hidden world teaming with life - across impossible mountains and endless deserts. Dive into unexplored forests and crash into rugged coasts. Unforgiving, brutal, yet achingly beautiful.
For more about North America and the North America Blu-ray release, see North America Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 4, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Narrator: Tom Selleck
» See full cast & crew
North America Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 4, 2013
There was a famous political advertisement for President Ronald Reagan's reelection effort in 1984 which included the now iconic line "It's morning in America". That ad was a paean to the American spirit, an ode to hopefulness and optimism, and it helped, at least in part, to push Reagan on to one of the most lopsided Electoral College and popular vote triumphs in modern presidential history. I'm not quite sure if there might be some Reagan admirers on the production staff of the Discovery miniseries North America, but there is that same almost jingoistic zeal in this show ostensibly focused on the natural environment of our continent and the species which inhabit it. This is not "mere" Darwinism, as it's typically portrayed in efforts from, say, the National Geographic Channel, where devastating images of predators bringing down prey lend a visceral intensity to more sylvan interludes. This is a sort of American Darwinism (if there can even be such a thing), where species seem to have been "chosen" by some Divinity to live in the most preferred region imaginable, where survival is an example of innate spiritual superiority and where even something as apparently non- political as a mountain goat is displaying a peculiarly American pluck and stamina. It's an odd concatenation of ideas, and one which may strike some viewers as patently bizarre, especially as voiced in the stentorian tones of Tom Selleck, but it ultimately doesn't distract too much from some incredibly well photographed sequences which traverse all of North America (that means not just the United States), capturing a variety of landscapes and beasts, fish and fowl in their native habitats.
It used to be in the vaunted days of yore (meaning the Dark Ages before the advent of CGI), nature documentaries tended to be pretty cut and dried affairs, though they often included absolutely mind blowing footage of animals caught on a natural version of Candid Camera. Those days are now obviously long gone, and many producers of nature documentaries tend to "tart up" the proceedings with elements that are supposed to offer additional visual allure. In the case of North America we get lots of aerial views of the continent, with various larger metropolises highlighted, and then the camera will zoom in manically to some individual location, at which point the actual live action footage takes hold. How much "additional visual allure" this actually brings to the proceedings is arguable.
North America actually does some spectacular work when it finally settles down to these live action elements, at least if one can divorce those elements from the sometimes insanely "rah rah" narration that Selleck offers. While there is a huge gamut of locations and species covered, the series does seem to focus more generally on American (meaning United States) topics, perhaps only natural (no pun intended) considering the series' projected audience. There are some really stunning views of iconic places like the Grand Tetons, the Mississippi River, several coastlines surrounding the United States, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. The cinematography is often awe inspiring, including both beautifully done aerial fly overs as well as some really exceptional views of various wildlife in more intimate, up close and personal, moments.
While the series' cinematography is arguably its most alluring single element, there are the requisite interesting factoids sprinkled throughout each episode. We get whimsical entries, like a look at a real life wily coyote trying to decide whether to take off after a road runner or not (in the unrelenting heat of Death Valley), or perhaps less fanciful but just as interesting glimpses at hermit crabs who, in their mating season, undergo a weird ritual where the females more or less carry hordes of males on their backs up sandy beaches until the eggs are laid. But North America, like the continent it covers, is best seen as a scenic wonderment. Maybe there's something to that undue pride thing after all, for this is certainly one of the more visually breathtaking nature series in recent memory.
The Darwinian element enters into most of the seven main episodes included on this two disc set:
Born to Be Wild. This is a sort of overview in a way, introducing the viewer to the huge gamut of species which populates this continent, and detailing some of their living conditions.
No Place to Hide. This episode deals more resolutely with some of the natural phenomena that various species must withstand in order to survive.
Learn Young or Die. This outing concentrates continues exploring the natural behavior of species and how instinct can help them reach adulthood.
The Savage Edge. The border between ocean and land is explored in this episode, which peers beneath the water to view some undersea species.
Outlaws and Skeletons. The barren expanses of North American (including Mexican) deserts are examined in this episode.
North America Revealed. This is in some ways the most interesting episode of the entire series, as it documents how the crews got some of this astounding footage.
Top Ten. I couldn't help but think of History Channel as this episode played out, for it includes a "countdown" of favorite locations in North America. At least there's no killer asteroid coming to wipe us all out.
North America Blu-ray, Video Quality
North America is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Gaiam and Discovery with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. This is an incredibly sharp, well defined and colorful high definition presentation that benefits from the usual assortment of techniques, including everything from slow motion to time lapse. Fine detail is awesome, revealing everything from the nubs on the backs of manatees (which smaller fish feed off of) to the scraggly hair of coyotes. The aerial photography offers excellent depth of field and surprising sharpness, at times to the far points of the horizon.
North America Blu-ray, Audio Quality
North America's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is excellent immersive in terms of its ambient environmental sounds, which wash through the surround channels with a lot of verve and vividness. Selleck's narration is anchored front and center, while the occasionally enjoyable score (which includes source cues from the likes of Bon Jovi, believe it or not) resides quite comfortably in the side and rear channels. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide, at least when considering the ambient environmental noises. Strangely (and unfortunately), the music and effects isolated track is presented only in Dolby Digital 2.0.
North America Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
North America Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While some of North America's narration is questionable, if not downright laughable, from a visual standpoint this is one impressive looking nature series. There's a lot of interesting information given out here in dribs and drabs, but the real drawing card of this series is in its guise of being a spectacular travelogue. This high definition presentation features great video and audio, and this Blu-ray set comes Recommended.
North America: Other Seasons
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North America Blu-ray, News and Updates
• North America Blu-ray - June 28, 2013
This fall, Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment and Discovery Communications is bringing North America to Blu-ray via a two-disc set packaged with a 32-page photo booklet. The network's 7-episode documentary series captures a land where life and civilization collides with ...
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