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Blu-Ray is "Upconverted from Standard Definition"
on April 4, 2013
George Fenton's terrific score anchors this spectacular BBC documentary from the same creative team that would later produce "Planet Earth," including host David Attenborough and producer Alastair Fothergill. BBC's 1080p transfer of their acclaimed 2001 "Blue Planet" mini-series still offers breathtaking footage of life under and just above the surface, from dolphins and killer whales to seal pups and baby turtles - the latter groups fighting to stay away from predators.
However, because the BBC's Blu-Ray presentation has been mastered from a standard-definition source (and is clearly stated as such on the back cover, albeit in tiny print), the upscaled presentation varies greatly from certain sequences that nearly look HD in quality (the film based portions), to others that are clearly derived off video elements and display jaggies and other issues (i.e. much of the underwater footage). Either way, none of the transfer is actually presented in high-def -- so consumers will have to determine for themselves whether this upscale is enough of an upgrade over the prior DVD release to justify the purchase (I don't have the DVD to compare it with). Five bonus programs, interviews with Fothergill and other crew members, 80 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and DTS MA 5.1 soundtracks round out the release.
ADDITIONAL NOTES - There seems to be a misconception that BLUE PLANET was entirely filmed on 16mm film stock. I refer readers to this 2002 in-depth article on the production of BLUE PLANET and its HD mastering, which includes interviews with the producers and presents evidence to the contrary:
It clearly states "the source material varied from a wide range of film and video formats," says that "a significant percentage of the original material was shot on video," and goes onto state "having so much video footage interspersed with the film footage was a change that presented a particular challenge in providing a seamless transfer to HD."
So not all of it was shot on film stock. Underwater portions, which I mentioned were derived from a video source, is also confirmed in this article: "however, for many of the underwater sequences it was important to give a sense of speed, so video running at 50i was more appropriate. Shooting video underwater is also easier because the cameras are smaller, and you can spend more time filming before you have to change rolls". There are jaggies and other problems all throughout this transfer IN those moments that are derived not from 16mm but video sources -- clearly upconversion artifacts.
Perhaps it was too daunting a task for them to track down every last bit of footage and remaster it for HD. The author of the article even asks the BBC rep why the whole production "wasn't shot in HD to begin with," which implies that not every scrap of footage was either shot on film or an HD-based video format. Keep in mind this production was filmed in the late '90s when it was not cost-prohibitive for crews to all be carrying HD cameras around (which is also stated in the article).
Either way, the fact is that this transfer -- all of it, including the film based portions -- is a standard-def upconvert, and is confirmed as such on the packaging itself.