HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I always thought of Yellowstone National Park as just this nice, pretty park with a big geyser. And also the place where Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo live (sorta). But now I feel almost like Ash in ALIEN when he says, in awe of the strange planet: "It's almost primordial." And as presented in this DVD for the impeccably-made "BBC Earth" documentary series YELLOWSTONE: BATTLE FOR LIFE (2009), it's also fascinating, beautiful, and utterly awe-inspiring.

I never realized there were so many interesting things to know about Yellowstone, the world's first national park. "Perhaps the most treasured wilderness in the world" as the dulcet-voiced narrator Peter Firth tells us, "a hard, cold plateau 8,000 feet up, surrounded by the spires of the Rocky Mountains." This 50-mile-wide bowl rests over a vast underground volcanic chamber--which could erupt again at any time--which causes geysers such as Old Faithful to spew thousands of gallons of boiling water up to 150 feet in the air. This underground furnace also reacts in interesting and unpredictable ways with the often frigid temperatures on the surface.

The first episode in the series is entitled "Winter", and what a winter it is--at forty degrees below zero and beyond, with four feet of snow covering the ground and the lakes and streams frozen over, survival for most of the wildlife is a constant struggle. Packs of Druid wolves stalk the elk, great bald eagles battle each other over carcasses, and massive bison use their thick necks to sweep the snow aside as they search for grass to eat.

With "Summer" comes a brief respite from the cold which heralds the return of the pronghorn antelope, who evolved in order to outrun a now-extinct North American cheetah (becoming the fastest antelope on earth), and the emergence of the grizzly bears and their cubs from a long hibernation. A variety of birds from as far away as the Arctic and Mexico come to feed. Teeming with life, Yellowstone is, for a short time, a lush paradise of incredible beauty.

"Autumn", the shortest season, brings the end of the easy life and the beginning of a frantic dash to store food for the coming winter and the need to breed. Like scenes out of THE LOST WORLD, we witness life-or-death battles between male elk, bison, and Bighorn rams for dominance over the pack and the right to procreate. Elsewhere, a mother grizzly fends off a male to protect her cubs in a furious clash of claws and teeth.

And just as compelling in its own way is the industrious beaver, cutting down whole trees with its teeth and engineering dams and canals with admirable skill. You may even find yourself deeply involved in the symbiotic relationship between the Clark's Nutcracker and the whitebirch pine. These are but a few of the compelling creatures who are shown going about their daily routines in the continuing struggle to survive.

We see all of this through some of the most gorgeous photography imaginable, which captures the breathtaking grandeur of Yellowstone and follows the lives and activities of its inhabitants in intimate detail. In scene after scene, an almost otherworldly beauty is depicted in painterly images that no special effects could surpass. Combined with a rich and emotionally powerful musical score, the result is almost intoxicating.

The DVD from BBC Warner is 16 x 9 with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Image and sound quality are very good. Bonus features consist of three featurettes entitled "The People of Yellowstone", which tell the stories of some dedicated geyser gazers, a man whose job is to shovel snow off the roofs of Yellowstone's buildings in winter to keep them from caving in, and a human fish whose love affair with the Yellowstone River reminded me of the character in "B.C." who always had his head underwater.

Naturally, this isn't the sort of DVD you'll want to pop in for a houseful of rowdy drunk guys after the Super Bowl. But whenever you're in the mood to drift away with something that's engrossing, educational, and utterly enchanting--after the guys have all gone home, of course--then YELLOWSTONE: BATTLE FOR LIFE will take you there in style.

Buy it at

No comments: