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Untamed Americas(TV) (2012)
Outside the concrete jungles and just minutes from our own backyards, another world is fighting, thriving, and surviving. Witness the elegance, power, and speed of a world rarely captured in National Geographic's miniseries focused solely on the continent of America. Scaling mountains from north to south, crossing harsh, dry deserts, trekking through forests and circling the coasts, Untamed America takes a fresh look at life, death, familiar creatures and scientific revelations.
For more about Untamed Americas and the Untamed Americas Blu-ray release, see the Untamed Americas Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 30, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Narrator: Josh Brolin
» See full cast & crew
Untamed Americas Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 30, 2012
Long before there was Planet Earth or Blue Planet or Human Planet or practically any other kind of "planet", there was National Geographic, which used to crank out highly anticipated specials for broadcast television before finding their own corner of the cable universe on the National Geographic channel. National Geographic continues to offer a really stunning array of nature related outings, both one offs and short run series, most if not all of them featuring absolutely jaw dropping videography and usually featuring star narrators who occasionally wax just a little poetic as they describe the goings on that the viewer is watching. Untamed Americas is yet another jewel in National Geographic's rather impressive crown, featuring gorgeous shots of scenery and wildlife spread over both North America and South America, split into easily digestible episodes built around various focusing elements like Mountains, Deserts, Coasts and Forests. Josh Brolin contributes some genial narration, but the real star here is the absolutely awesome photography (and some truly spectacular sound recording as well—more about that later) that will certainly delight any armchair nature lover.
The four episodes included in Untamed Americas are:
The episode starts off with a long segment dealing with a lone wolf hunting some migrating caribou. The caribou migration is the largest migration of mammals in North America, and despite the sheer number of the beasts that are on hand, the wolf still has an incredibly hard time managing to track one down to finally enjoy a meal after having expended literally thousands of calories chasing after various potential snacks. Aside from the impressive, often unbelievably candid, footage caught here, this little segment is incredibly artful with its sound design. How the wizards at National Geographic were able to capture the sound of this wolf actually panting as it chases the caribou is just one thing astute listeners may be wondering about as they watch.
The episode goes on to show some literal head butting with the unbelievably aggressive behaviors of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep as they battle to see who will get the spoils, meaning the chance to mate with the herd's females. There's also some gorgeously scenic footage of Yellowstone in winter where we see elk who are caught in the frosty climate and must give birth in the lowlands, not their accustomed tactic. Of course there's a predator waiting for these newborn, and we see the circle of life play out as black bears try to make short work of the little elk babies.
The "backbone" of mountains that runs virtually the entire length of North and South America is followed as we get some equally nice footage in Nicaragua, where in one the episode's most unusual sequences, we follow bright green parakeets who actually next inside the dome of a Volcan Nindiri, an active volcano. How the birds survive the sulfuric atmosphere of the volcano still stumps scientists to this day. A television debut of sorts is claimed for this episode as it reveals the pollinating efforts of a really weird looking creature called the tube lipped nectar bat.
America's deserts are described as being among the hottest and driest places on Earth, which probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise to most people, but what some may find surprising is the incredible abundance of life that manages to survive, and even thrive, in these unbelievably harsh conditions. The first animal profiled is an icon of the American West, the Mustang. Few people probably know that settlers actually brought horses to the Great Basin Desert between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas over a century ago, and wild descendants of those horses still forage in the barren environment to this day. The main story unfolding in this sequence deals with an 11 year old male, an "old timer" by horse standards, who is trying to finagle his way into a band of younger horses so that he might survive.
A number of the major arid regions that dot the Americas are featured in this episode, including the driest desert on Earth, the Atacama. This desert features probably the most unlikely denizen anyone could ever predict would call a desert home: penguins! Later the episode journeys to the Sonoran, which has more life than any desert on the continent despite receiving fewer than three inchdes of rain per year. One of the interesting species profiled here is a plant: the Saguaro Cactus, which can actually suck up over 200 gallons of water from a single rainfall.
There is some brief information and even footage repeated from the Mountains episode here, as Deserts journeys to the Altiplano in the middle of the Andes. With rare snowstorms providing a high altitude water table, bizarre inland lakes form that eventually settle into caustic pool full of salt. Against considerable odds, these pools provide a resplendent landing area for flocks of bright pink flamingoes.
This waterlogged episode journeys around the globe visiting the planet's major waterways and oceans, starting in what Brolin calls the "richest water in the world", the Peruvian coast off of South America. This region is a major breeding ground for sea lions, and the beaches are absolutely teeming with the massive creatures as well as huge numbers of newborn pups. There's some fairly disturbing imagery here as adolescent males, not yet able to mate, take their frustration out on the newborn pups, picking the poor little babies up in their mouths and flinging them around on the rocky shores. Again, as with the wolf sequence in Mountains, the sound recording here is amazing. The little yelps the pups make are clearly caught and the frantic screams of terror from the little ones as the "teens" bully them are frightening and unsettling.
There's some underwater footage that is really pretty amazing in the next sequence, as the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula is explored. El Diablo Rojo, also known as The Red Devil and/or Humboldt squid, is profiled. The eyes on these creatures are just plain weird looking and the cameramen have gotten some unbelievably "up close and personal" footage here, including shots of the squid "communicating" with each other by flashing their luminescent skin. We also follow other disparate creatures who migrate from the Baja Peninsula north to Alaska, including whales and dolphins.
Among the other areas looked at are the Falkland Islands, where we get another look at penguins (in a perhaps more expected environment than a desert), the Arctic Ocean and polar bears (where climate change isn't explicitly mentioned but whose effects are shown in some pretty devastating footage), and just for contrast's sake, the tropical waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, where shots include some gorgeous coral reef and a really beautiful multi-colored tortoise.
This episode is kind of unusually structured, in that the focal element of the forest is not its only organizing element. Additionally, this episode follows the change of the seasons, as well see various forest environments weather everything from huge snowstorms to arid summers. The episode starts out in the Amazon, the largest rain forest on Earth, and follows a hungry jaguar as it tries to evade a scheming crocodile that is actually the big cat's better when the feline has to tread waterways to get to food.
Though it isn't given an explicit name in this episode, the next area profiled is described as one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world, one which stretches from British Columbia to Alaska. There's a really interesting look at a species of bear that few people probably even know exists. While it's technically a black bear, it has a genetic anomaly which makes its coat white, and it bears (sorry) the moniker "spirit bear". It takes advantage of the salmon returning home to spawn in the fall for a chance to enjoy a major fish feast.
Each of the seasons offers a chance to profile different species that call forests home, so for instance winter shows hungry wolves trying to bring down elk in huge snowdrifts. Spring features a busy mother beaver trying to spruce up her dam after a winter spent beneath an ice floe. Summer brings new challenges as bison and other creatures try to evade a forest fire caused by several lightning strikes.
Untamed Americas Blu-ray, Video Quality
Untamed Americas is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of National Geographic with an AVC encoded 1080i transfer in 1.78:1. This is yet another sparklingly clear high definition presentation that only very fleetingly reveals its interlaced source, and then rather ironically mostly in the brief prelude that features skyscrapers and cityscapes, which have some minor stability issues. Otherwise, this is a stunning looking outing, with bold, bright colors (sometimes rather graphically so, after some prey is brought down in a lot of blood and gore). Contrast is invariably strong and fine object detail is literally astounding at times (take a gander at screencap #2 for a great example).
Untamed Americas Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Untamed Americas features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that really showcases the incredibly fine sound recording techniques of the filmmaking crew, as mentioned above. When an animal's heartbeat becomes an integral part of an episode (and seems to be an actual recording, not some interpolated effect), you know you're getting something pretty special in terms of nature documentaries. Surround activity is fairly consistent here, at least when ambient environmental sounds come into play. Brolin's narration is front and center, as is to be expected. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is rather wide.
Untamed Americas Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Untamed Americas Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Untamed Americas is another great release from National Geographic, which continues to pump out high quality nature documentaries with apparent ease. This four episode offering has some really amazing footage and also ups the ante with some truly spectacular sound recording as well. With excellent video and audio, this release comes Recommended.
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