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DVD Reviews[Next Page - Stubby the Third]
April 30, 2005

Since I'm going to be away from home for 90 percent of the time through mid-August, I had my cable TV disconnected. But the 10 percent of the time when I am home, it's tough to be without ESPN and the Discovery Channel. The only shows I watch on channels that I can get over the air are NFL Football and The Simpsons, and football it out of season. This weekend I had the benefit of a couple of DVD's that I hadn't viewed yet.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is selling America's Wildest Places - Volume 1, A Video Tour of Eight National Wildlife Refuges. Total running time is two hours, and the price with shipping is a very reasonable $6 each plus $2.50 for shipping. They also throw in a map showing the location of the 500+ refuges in the U.S.

The eight features are:

  • Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges, Texas.
  • Caribbean Islands in Peril, U.S. Caribbean territories.
  • Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama/Georgia.
  • Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin.
  • John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Pennsylvania.
  • Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
  • Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana.
  • Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.

If you are looking for Hollywood, you're not going to find it here. These are the type of videos that you're going to see in the visitor center to introduce you to the place. They are full of the type of information I would like to know before visiting (featured species, trails, driving loops), and there's also the occasional spectacular image. I have not visited any of these refuges, so if I ever do make it to any of them this DVD will help with the planning. Since they named it "Volume 1" perhaps there are more of these discs in the works.

These videos reinforced something I was aware of before: Many National Wildlife Refuges in the lower 48 states do not have a pristine history. In many cases FWS reclaimed agricultural land that had been extensively reshaped. Pocosin Lakes is an example of an area that was abused for a century before it was reclaimed. FWS puts a lot of work into these refuges to provide attractive habitat to wildlife, but that does not mean they restore it to a fully natural condition. Because much of the surrounding land has been developed, it may be impossible to do so. Managing water levels is not natural, but it is necessary.

I have one nitpick – some stock footage was used. I suppose if your refuge gets a lot of warblers and you need video of a warbler as an illustration, you can claim it doesn't matter where the video was shot. The most obvious example was a red-tailed hawk with three chicks shown toward the end of the Muscatatuck video, then again a few minutes later at the beginning of the Pocosin video. Were these hawks in Indiana, North Carolina, or somewhere else? I realize the FWS has a limited budget and these videos aren't intended to be documentaries, but I found it distracting.

The second video I viewed this weekend is Bears, which was originally shown in IMAX theatres. This is a Hollywood (or Burbank) production from Slingshot Entertainment, and it contains the stunning images you expect from an IMAX film. Bear species from other parts of the world are mentioned, but the primary focus is on the black, brown and polar bears of North America.

Bonus features include "Bear Wars" about the controversy surrounding the reintroduction of griz into the Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho and Montana, "Wild on the Set" showing how tame black bears were used for some of the sequences in the main feature, and "Making of" in which one of the suits behind the movie said the shooting plan was to get as much footage of wild bears as possible. Except for the tame black bear sequence, of course. Once again, I nitpick.

Despite these minor points, I would watch these videos 1,000 times each before sitting through any of the disgusting reality shows that pass for "major" network "programming" these days. In summary, two thumbs up!

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