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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Animals > Nature > Preservation > Biography > Enviromental > Large Frame Format > Science > Betty White: Champion For Animals (Image DVD)/IMAX Born To Be Wild (Warner Blu-ray w/DVD)/Frozen Planet (BBC Blu-ray)/We Bought A Zoo (Fox Blu-ray w/DVD/all 2011)

Betty White: Champion For Animals (Image DVD)/IMAX Born To Be Wild (Warner Blu-ray w/DVD)/Frozen Planet (BBC Blu-ray)/We Bought A Zoo (Fox Blu-ray w/DVD/all 2011)


Picture: C+/B & C/B-/B- & C     Sound: C+/B & B-/B-/B- & C+     Extras: C-/C/B-/C-     Main Programs: B-/C+/B/C-



A new cycle of nature programming is good, but not great overall.



We start with a documentary called Betty White: Champion For Animals which would make you think there would be plenty of Miss White with loads of animals, but what seems to suggest an expose of all her work over the decades is not exactly so.  She is interviewed, but not enough and though the information on animals is always welcome, we have seen that angle plenty of times. They are always interesting and we do get footage of White in action, but the title is a bit misleading with some bait-and-switch involved, but this was still a decent program about wildlife and the like, with White stealing her scenes as usual.  This runs 89 minutes and the only extra is a trailer.


IMAX Born To Be Wild is narrated by Morgan Freeman and runs 40 minutes about how people are in the middle of other countries saving the animals against the odds.  Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas and Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick are the subjects of this program, showing their advanced knowledge and advanced efforts in making a difference.  This is a good, solid IMAX program, but it did not stick with me like the many others on the same subject.  Still, it is worth a look.  Extras include 5 Webisodes tired to the film and UltraViolet digital copy.


The BBC continues its nature and science mini-series with Frozen Planet, narrated once again by David Attenborough and showing us a world that is changing more than likely any other (via global warming or “whatever” is melting all that ice) featured in their programs including 90 minutes not seen on HDTV or otherwise.  This one runs seven hour-long shows and is about as compelling as its predecessors, yet there are some aspects where the sense of wonderment in previous BBC nature series is a little lost here.  Still, you’ll see things here you have never seen before and it is another top rate effort from the series.


Extras include Freeze Frame, consisting of seven making of featurettes for each of the episodes, a music-only audio option, Production Video Diaries with 47 (!) video shorts tied to this release and two additional featurettes: Science At The End Of The Earth and Frozen Planet: The Epic Journey.


Finally we have a new film by Cameron Crowe, a filmmaker who has made some fine films (Say Anything, Almost Famous), disappointments (Singles), overrated hits (Jerry Maguire) and lately has been in a rut with the likes of the extremely problematic Vanilla Sky and very forgettable Elizabethtown.  Six years later, he has decided to helm We Bought A Zoo (2011) and it is an odd choice in telling the story of a family who buys and reforms an animal habitat with Matt Damon leading the cast.


Crowe used to be able to pull off this kind of thing, meaning in this case, taking flat, obvious material and doing something with it.  However, no matter his skills, the appeal of the actors or the potentially amusing subject matter, the result is never above a cable telefilm and the film becomes an obvious one-note run on.  Even with Scarlett Johansson, this never takes off in the naturalistic fell; good film it could have been if handled properly.  Running 124 minutes (!), they should have cut it short and maybe this would have worked better, but we’ll never know.  At least it is somewhat family friendly, but it also becomes annoying and creates a phony feel early on when it is apparent it is not going anywhere.  Thomas Haydn Church, Patrick Fugit. Elle Fanning and Angus Macfayden also star.


Extras include Digital Copy for PC and PC portable devices, feature length audio commentary track by Crowe, Actor JB Smoove & Editor Mark Livolsi in both formats, It’s A Zoo insider look at the film on the DVD and the Blu-ray adds three more featurettes (The Real Mee, Their Happy Is Too Loud, We Shot A Zoo), Deleted & Extended Scenes that are mixed and an amusing Gag Reel that shows they were trying to make a good film and having fun doing it.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on White is a mix of old analog video and new HD video, so you get varying quality as you would expect in a documentary release, but the surprising thing is that it fares a little better than the anamorphically enhanced DVD versions of Born and Zoo (both 1.85 X 1) included with their Blu-ray counterparts.  The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Born offers the best picture quality of all the discs covered here, in part because most of it is shot in the 70mm IMAX format, but between some editing, older lower-definition footage and the use of a new 4K IMAX digital camera that is no match for the 70mm format, this cannot compete with the best fully 70mm IMAX Blu-rays we have covered to date.  Too many close shots are also a factor.


The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Frozen has some detail issues and other depth limits, but also offers some fine shots, while the 1080p 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 22 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Zoo may be superior to its DVD counterpart, the Super 35mm film shoot has some style choices and transfer issues (like detail and color range) that limit its performance.  Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto (Frida, Babel, Brokeback Mountain) can lens a film, but the results are odd here.


All three Blu-rays have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, but once again, Born is the sonic winner with a nicely active soundfield.  Frozen and Zoo tends to have soundmixes that pull towards the front speakers and sometimes too much in the center channel for dialogue/voice over.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Betty is simple and just fine for what it is, but that it can match the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Zoo is sad for Zoo.  The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Born is better, but no match for the DTS-MA on its Blu-ray.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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