The Smithsonian Channel are known for their documentary programs, and Undersea Edens is an example of what they do best. As the title indicates (most of) Undersea Edens takes place underwater. The newly released Undersea Edens DVD contains six half-hour episodes, contained on a single disc. The underwater photography is magnificent, and with the soothing tones of narrator Kristen Krohn, this could be the ultimate chillout-room video wallpaper. I'm kidding of course, although stoners probably would enjoy it. Actually, everyone would enjoy this, as each episode presents an incredible world that few of us will likely ever see firsthand.
Despite the title, there is one program that was mainly filmed on land. This is "The Frozen Isle," which takes place on the South Georgia Island. The island is located 150 miles northwest of Antarctica, and is home to a fascinating array of animal life. We begin with a panoramic sweep of a seemingly endless population of King Penguins. There are over 100,000 pairs who nest here, making the South Georgia Island one of the most important habitats in the world for them.
After spending some time with these beautiful penguins, the next scene is a little jarring. The camera pivots to show us the remnants of man's contribution to the island. The beach is a bone-yard of bleached remains from the heyday of whaling and Fur Seal hunting. For a period of about 50 years, ending in the 1930s, the wildlife of South Georgia Island were mercilessly slaughtered. In fact, the hunters were so adept that they completely decimated the populations, and were forced to leave. The abandoned, rusted-out buildings are ghostly reminders of the past.
The men had introduced reindeer to the island to provide them with a source of food. Now, with nobody to hunt them, the reindeer have taken over. Some people want the reindeer removed, since they are not native to the island, but there are now thousands of them.
While the above-ground tales of South Georgia Island were interesting, I had signed up to see life underwater. I got my wish with the remaining five episodes. Both the opening "Rainforest to Reef," and closing "Predator's Paradise" were filmed at Milne Bay, off the coast of Papua, New Guinea. Although the rainforest is mentioned in the title of the first program, it gets but a cursory nod. A quick flyover, and we are plunged into the deep.
I think anyone who has watched an underwater documentary has a pretty good idea of what these programs are like. They feature some gorgeous underwater photography, accompanied by a few interesting facts about the fish (or whatever) at hand, then move on to the next one. Undersea Edens follows this script with the rest of the shows.
The titles are pretty self-explanatory. "Coral Kingdoms" takes us to the awesome Great Barrier Reef. "Desert to Reef" also concentrates on reefs, with just a glancing look at the desert in the beginning. Like all of the Undersea Edens shows, "The Majestic South" is filmed off (or near) the coast of Australia. In this case, it is the southern coast.
For those who enjoy nature programs, Undersea Edens is a great choice. There is no question about it being family friendly either. Even the episode I thought might be a little violent, "Predator's Paradise," was really not. About the worst thing we see are sea anemone paralyzing small fish, then sucking them in. I would have had no problem showing Undersea Edens to my preschoolers, way back when.
There was one minor drawback for me, and that was the portrayal of humans as the villains of the planet. This is done in a not-so-subtle fashion, with Kristen Krohn's lobotomized voice suddenly taking on a fairly condescending tone. Children will probably not notice, but I got a little tired of being scolded by her. Yes, this is a nature show, and our actions have affected things. So the points are valid. Still, I came to dread the moment, (usually near the end), when Kristen would tell me how bad I am.
Other than that, Undersea Edens was a marvelous viewing experience. The undersea life (and those King Penguins) look fantastic. If you have been looking for something to test out that new home theatre system, this DVD would be a good choice. The series is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 5.1 digital surround sound. It looks and sounds amazing.