Release Date(s)2017 (March 6, 2018)
Studio(s)BBC/BBC America/Tencent/France Télévisions (BBC Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
A follow-up to the BBC’s groundbreaking 2001 documentary series The Blue Planet, and a kind of parallel effort to their excellent Planet Earth and Planet Earth II series (reviewed here and here), Blue Planet II is an effort to extensively explore and document the Earth’s ocean environments and lifeforms and present them to the public in 4K resolution. Hosted as ever by the famed British naturalist David Attenborough, the series takes you on a fascinating and dazzling exploration of the world’s coastlines and coral reefs, to both poles, far out into the open ocean, and down into its darkest deeps. As you’d expect, the sights are extraordinary, featuring a host of familiar and rare sea creatures captures engaging in unique behaviors in their natural environment.
We see a tool-using tuskfish working to crack open clamshells and low-flying turns being hunted by jumping trevally fish. We see manta rays leaping out of the water, the Northern Lights shimmering over the Arctic Ocean, pods of orca and humpback whales hunting schools of herring in Norwegian fjords. We watch scientists in deep diving subs exploring the undersurface of icebergs, a creature whose head is transparent, a deep-sea fish that “walks” across the bottom on two feet, silvery scabbards, methane bursts on the ocean floor, blizzards of brightly-colored fish living among brightly-colored coral, sea lions hunting bluefin tuna, different species of creature collaborating to survive, leaping crabs, great struggles for life and death in tide pools – in short, aquatic life in a seemingly endless variety. We also learn, in the series’ final episode, how human activity is threatening all of this life, and we’re shown the firsthand evidence.
Shot and produced in full native 4K by the BBC’s Natural History Unit, over a period of four years and through more than a hundred expeditions, Blue Planet II aired in late 2017 in the UK and has recently completed its broadcast run in the States. It’s presented here on Ultra HD in native 4K (2160p) at the 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio. Detail is excellent overall, though the specific level of detail and image quality will vary a little bit depending on the type of the camera used to capture the footage. Only occasionally will you see a bit of compression artifacting in highly chaotic scenes, like churning schools of fast moving fish. A subtle HDR10 grade has been done to bring out the fullest variety of color and nuance. This lends a very natural quality to the image, with brightly sparkling water, glistening scales, glowing bioluminescence, and the vibrant, shimmering flutter of chameleon skin. You’ll see blues of every possible shade. What’s more, the detail and high dynamic range combine to lend image a splendid sense of depth.
Audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The mix isn’t flashy but rather natural and immersive, with a big wide soundstage, great clarity, and a full sense of spaciousness. The mix is meant to surround you with sonic environmental cues and it does this quite well. Attenborough’s narration is presented his trademark inviting tones, with subtle background music and the occasional flourish of theme composed by Hans Zimmer.
BBC Home Entertainment’s 4K release includes four discs, the first three of which Ultra HD Blu-rays containing the series’ seven episodes. They’re broken out as follows:
- Disc One (4K) – One Ocean (51:15), The Deep (53:31), Coral Reefs (50:52)
- Disc Two (4K) – Big Blue (51:59), Green Seas (53:12)
- Disc Three (4K) – Coasts (50:22), Our Blue Planet (60:13)
The set also includes a standard Blu-ray Disc with a behind-the-scenes special in 1080p HD:
- Disc Four (BD) – The Making of Blue Planet II: Into the Blue (51:37)
Note that there’s no digital copy included here, which is typical of BBC documentary releases.
At the end of this series, Attenborough makes a passionate appeal for each viewer, in their own lives, to help protect the Earth’s oceans by doing we can to reduce plastic waste and to help mitigate climate change. After having just spent nearly seven hours marveling at those oceans’ many wonders, you’d have to be heartless to ignore his request. Like the recent Planet Earth II before it, Blue Planet II is a stunning documentary experience and a must-have release on 4K Ultra HD.
- Bill Hunt