Frozen Planet Blu-ray Review: BBC Hits the Poles

The singular focus on polar nature wears thin, but the HD photography is spellbinding.
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Following the huge worldwide success of their previous epic nature projects Planet Earth and Life, the BBC cameramen don their parkas this time around for animal adventures in the Northern and Southern polar regions. Like their predecessors, Frozen Planet features top-notch HD photography, sweeping orchestral soundtracks, and the soothing narration of BBC stalwart Sir David Attenborough, combining to provide the best possible home-video experience of our natural wonders. If you’ve seen the other shows, you’ll know exactly what to expect here and won’t be disappointed, although the limiting choice of subject matter and leisurely seven-episode length does eventually create some polar exhaustion.

Frozen PlanetAs nature shows go, BBC has been at the head of the class for many years and shows no signs of letting up here, with top-notch production resources ensuring that their cameramen had the time and luxury to capture never-before-seen animal behaviors. Among the rare footage featured here is polar bears mating in the wild and a stunning look at tightly coordinated orca group efforts to create waves big enough to knock seals off ice floes. Of course the nature of the polar environments adds another layer of complexity to the shoots this time around, as the production team had to deal with protecting both themselves and their equipment from freezing.

My biggest complaint about the show is the BBC's ongoing focus on animal predator/prey behaviors. I knew going in that I would inevitably witness cute penguins and seals meeting grisly deaths, but that didn't make the experience any easier. Seriously, animals are interesting on their own without having to see them killing each other in explicit detail. My fondest wish would be for BBC to take a CBeebies approach on a big-budget nature series, with all sweetness and light and no death, but for now viewers will just have to self-edit this to make it more palatable to the younger and/or more sensitive audiences.

Although the Discovery Channel continued their questionable tradition of redubbing the narration with a Yank for U.S. broadcast, in this case Alec Baldwin, the home-video release thankfully retains the original BBC narration by Attenborough, a continuing fan favorite who acts as something of a kindly old uncle explaining the wild world to his civilized kin. He briefly pops up on screen at times as well rather than entirely recording his dialogue in studio, demonstrating his ongoing personal passion for nature exploration. While the HD sound and video are great, Attenborough is the cherry on top that really puts a distinctive and winning stamp on the BBC projects, giving them a personal touch that can’t be gained by redubbing with a bored actor hired solely to appeal to US masses deemed too dumb to accept an English accent.

Speaking of the HD video, the photography is as awesome as one would expect on Blu-ray, although I was troubled by some slight but surprisingly noticeable artifacting, especially in the first episode. However, the entire production was reportedly filmed in HD, unlike Planet Earth which still had some incorporation of SD segments. Sound quality is immersive with surround environmental effects and nicely buoyed by the orchestral score.

The bonus features include 10-minute segments at the end of each hour-long episode exploring the extreme efforts needed to capture the spectacular footage (another carryover from Planet Earth and Life), along with 47 brief production video diaries, and a revealing examination of the remarkable scientific work being performed at the South Pole entitled Science at the Ends of the Earth.

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