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North America: where civilization collides with untamed wilderness. Just feet beyond our own back yards rages a spectacle we rarely see. Join us as we step into this hidden world teaming with life - across impossible mountains and endless deserts. Dive into unexplored forests and crash into rugged coasts. Unforgiving, brutal, yet achingly beautiful. This vast continent offers boundless rewards for those brave enough to take on this land - and call her home.
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I've been waiting two months for this nature series to be released on blu-ray. Sure, I could have blown the anticipation, watching it instead on television or found some pirated version somewhere online, but I'm a nature documentary purist and my discipline goes beyond enthusiasm. This strange, almost absurd fascination with the real world has translated into a substantial collection of over a hundred nature blu-rays / videos. This is important for you to know because I want you to appreciate how nature documentaries are my thing. Others collect guns, shoes or passport stamps, I collect nature documentaries.
The first word I said 30-seconds into this series, which underscores its relevance is the word, "FINALLY." As in, finally, an American-based nature series featuring relentless high-definition, exquisite sound quality and stunning rich and diverse biological demographics. Any trucker will tell you, North America is an incomprehensibly vast, diverse and complex space. Anyone who has traveled across the country will relay long-winded stories about voyaging through America's wild spaces. America is a place you can't drive across ocean-to-ocean in a couple days, or, if you tried, you're a complete lunatic with a death wish. Naïve foreigners come across the pond and attempt ambitious things like driving coast-to-coast, thinking that LA-to-NY is like driving from Spain to Germany, quickly realizing the error of their ways somewhere in Kansas. The American frontier is an enormous, often treacherous, unforgivable place which has never been captured so elegantly, beautifully and with such heartfelt admiration as found in this series.
Right out of the gate, the feature zooms the viewer up to Glacier National Park (also known as America's Alps) and then Alaska's mysterious Aleutian Islands, the finger of rock extending toward the eastern edge of Siberia. Here we encounter an intriguing array of mammal and fowl species, but hone in on following a mountain goat as it struggles to reach a safe haven and give birth in the incredible frigidity and wild torn landscape. The viewer feels the trials of the mom and calf as they venture through blades of mountain terrain, over rivers and descending into craggy valleys, as the mother and young struggle to maintain the only goal in place like this: survival.
North America is segmented into five extraordinarily cheesily-titled episodes:
1. Born to be Wild
2. No Place to Hide
3. Learn Young or Die
4. The Savage Edge
5. Outlaws and Skeletons
And two sets of bonus featurettes:
6. North American: Revealed - Behind the Scenes
7. North America: Top Ten - Best Clips from the Series
Incidentally, the documentary is filmed by British crews (director Keith Scholey is a British producer, best known for African Cats, Wildlife on One and a host of BBC series) which is, frankly, the best circumstance as American direction tends to do really over-the-top tacky special effects and hackneyed guitar solo flanked scenes.
Okay, here's where I get critical, there are some really cheesy moments especially sound effects, this documentary basks in the American corn factor, using infrequent rock and roll, occasional jazz (think Nina Simone) interlaced within the swelling orchestral soundtrack. The Rolling Stones and the Troggs, not an American bands, are also featured as background music. But here's the caveat, as a nature documentary purist who despises corny injections as brevity and hammed-in comic relief, North America's corn-factor are easy to look beyond because of the VISUALS. OH MY GOD THE VISUALS.
The reason you need to have this documentary in your collection, especially if you're American, is because this is YOUR backyard. The majority of the series features our majestic and sensational National Parks. Monument Valley. Bristle Cone Forest. The Badlands. You've never had a greater reason to appreciate these wild spaces than getting the exposure of the most majestic, frightening and sweet untamed as found throughout this series. Teaming with aggressive grizzlies, soaring eagles, spry prong horns and legions of other species covering everywhere between Central America's Panama to the northern tips of Labrador. This is the American Frontier you dream about, the visuals glitter as if they erupted from your immagination. Dazzling, sweeping high definition snow-capped mountains, sweltering humbled desert depths, grasslands caressed by the wind like enormous green seas and onward, baffling still.
Tom Selleck, as American as eating apple pie while listening to jazz at a baseball game, does an extraordinary job with the narration. His deep, grizzled tone echoes the weathered terrain featured throughout the visuals. The narration never goes too Disney, as in, the unfolding dramas don't rely stilted on baby animals surviving despite the odds. The drama is realistic. Not everyone makes it. Animals die and natures cruel indifference holds all as equals within the struggle. It's a humbling appreciation for putting the wild in wilderness: survival of the fittest. Fight, flight, adapt or die.
Tragically, the only short-fall is the depth of the scientific study, which superficially scratches the ecological surface. You don't find, as you would in a BBC documentary, enumerations on natural selection in action. You don't find scientific tangents, like natural manifestations of physics, or geology. You don't find, say, a complex explanation of the magnetic field which gives life to the aurora borealis, as you find in other series. In that sense, this feature is sanitized of controversy, directed for widespread appeal, inoffensive and accessible to all. I'm certain that the icon David Attenborough would turn a cold shoulder for all the dumbing down and adding rock n' roll scattered here and there. But again, I don't want to go too far down that critical path, because it's an injustice. This is after all the best American-focused nature documentary. The rich textured visuals alone will blow you away and make this a masterpiece. The harrowing dramas unfold like tiny vignettes. Scenes speed up and slow down to ensure you witness the details. You experience rare and intimate moments like bald eagles hunting wild geese, the regal wolves (LOTS!) hunting in packs and, surprisingly, pairs--a total buddy experience. You see one of America's greatest and most extraordinary enduring creatures, its wild buffalo, as they struggle in Yellowstone's unforgiving wilderness.
And beyond that, beyond all the incredible wildlife you visit, the most important spaces on the American frontier, America's BEST IDEA, our National Parks. As a passionate supporter of our National Park system, especially during a time when they're uniformly closed to the public (at the time of this writing, our government is shutdown) being able to psychologically escape into our natural wonderlands offers a vacation for the mind.
North America is an invigorating educational experience completely APPROPRIATE FOR ALL MEMBERS OF YOUR FAMILY.
Once you finish this series, order BBC's Yellowstone blu-ray documentary (2009). This is also a feature you should DEFINITELY see. Yellowstone, American's first National Park, is as surprising a documentary as it is a rush of endorphins.
Fun facts about North America:
UK's narration is by Chiwetel Ejiofor
Canada's narration is by Rtger Hauer
Brazilian's narration is by Seu Jorge
My single complaint is that the director apparently doesn't like scene transitions, so it isn't obvious when the episode ends and the behind-the-scenes segment begins.