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I was freezing just watching this disc so you can imagine how cold our old buddy David Attenborough was trying to explain one of nature’s most breathtaking phenomenon. Those who know nothing about Antarctica will be fully informed by one of the most experienced nature documentarians going around. I’m just glad I didn’t have to join him to learn about it.

The Series
With a water shortage in Victoria it’s interesting to note that 90% of the world’s fresh water is contained in the ice around Antarctica. I might have to ring Mr.Attenborough next time he pops over there and get him to bring back an ice cap or two for our reserves.

Nice little menu

Episode One: The Bountiful Sea
We learn about the seasonal changes on the world’s most remote continent and it’s fascinating to watch some of the fast-motion footage of these enormous icebergs in continual motion until the water around them freezes also. There’s a section on whales and how they merely open up their great big mouths to catch the stupid little fish (actually krill) swimming beside them. Great way to eat actually. But the whales aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the small fish stirred up towards the surface. Sea birds are making the most of their limited diving abilities by sitting on the surface of the water, waiting until they can grab a bite or two to eat.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many penguins in my life. One portion of the show focuses on baby penguins who are just coming to the end of their first winter. Attenborough sits in the middle of them all and pronounces them to be very inquisitive before a few of the little furballs waddle foolishly up to the camera to give it a stare. It is here I was just dying to give one of them a pat. It beats Australia’s Philip Island, that’s for sure.

Episode Two: The Ice Retreats
Punk-rocking penguins with a yellow wisp on their head are the highlight here. We see the female lay a few eggs and a scavenger have all his Christmases come at once, feasting on an abandoned penguin egg lying nearby.

During Spring is when the sea ice starts to melt, hence the title of this episode. The penguins are the first to make it to the edge and start to sit on their eggs and wait for them to hatch. It’s highly amusing to watch other penguins steal precious rocks from someone else’s nest to better their own. The helpless one sitting on the eggs doesn’t stand a chance.

We are introduced to the crabeater seals who actually don’t have anything to do with crabs at all. Instead the surrounding krill is their staple diet. A lone Adelie penguin makes it’s way over the thin ice towards the main part of Antarctica, impatient that some of the ice hasn’t broken yet. They all must walk across in order to make it in time for breeding, some preferring to belly-slide most of the way along. Brilliant.

Whoa! Steady on there little birdies!

Episode Three: The Race To Breed
Like the penguins in the previous episode, the animals of the Antarctic need to be in the right place at the right time. We get to witness a seal giving birth and the nasty little birds that swoop down to feed on the afterbirth within seconds. Little scoundrels.

A few elephant seals try to encroach on the females lying around but are soon chased off by the bigger and stronger males already guarding their territory. Things turn nasty as the penguins begin to really fight, splitting their flippers and gauging their necks into a bloody mess. Ouch. All the while the mothers drag their little ones away from the action to avoid being squashed by a fighting elephant seal.

Episode Four: The Door Closes
Poor old penguins are getting battered into the rocks by the waves. It’s the end of the summer and they are struggling to feed their chicks who seem to want to eat all the time. The race to breed continues as winter is fast approaching, meaning the ice will return and encapsulate the whole of Antarctica once again.

The little penguins have no alternative but to scamper across the thin ice towards the sea to feed. Leopard seals decide to try and pick the little ones off and are quite successful, picking their mark and ripping them apart when they strike. I feel for the poor penguins, I really do.

Episode Five: The Big Freeze
Here comes winter. The temperature is now around –70C and there are winds of 120 miles per hour. There’s a blanket of darkness over much of the continent, with only a few areas exposed to minimal light. Attenborough still hangs around, and introduces us to the Weddell seal. They might have a goofy sounding name but they’re smart cookies, making holes in the ice so they have access to the sea all year round. They keep warm by retreating below the surface where things are comparatively warmer (and much darker).

Where's Wally?

The footage of a cameraman exploring underneath the ice is priceless, though I don’t envy their plight if they happen to get lost. And boy, it must be cold. Attenborough tells us that most fish would explode if they touched the glacier walls, their cells would immediately be overtaken by crystals. But there’s an amazing little fish that has tissue loaded with, wait for it, anti-freeze. Now that’s what I call adaptation!

For the most part of this episode we witness life underneath the ice as opposed to on top of it. There are scores of beautiful jellyfish swimming around along with starfish and the like, who must make the most of the limited food supply down in the deep by eating whatever they can find. Seals have no worries swimming around in the deep, where humans would basically just blow up.

Episode Six: Footsteps In The Snow
This is big Dave’s turn to shine. He takes us to a hut where a man named Captain Scott and his company spent their time in 1911. We are treated to photos of their expedition all those years ago in their attempts to reach the south pole. They eventually reached their destination but were beaten by a Norwegian team who arrived more than a month earlier. Sadly, Scott’s team all died from exhaustion and hunger, not far from a food depot or their original hut.

Attenborough points out just how much things have changed. How Scott and his buddies could have used that giant airplane to beat those Norwegians to the pole way back in 1911. We get to see the huge dome built at the South Pole that will be visited by hundreds of scientists every year. It’s very interesting to see that there is some semblance of civilisation in even the most remote of places.  

Throughout the documentary it is very interesting to see how the many animals on the continent have very human qualities; penguin mothers go looking for wandering children, a male elephant seal gets extremely jealous of another male on his turf and sea birds keep their space from their neighbours. And they are genuinely happy when they return to find their partner.

Antarctica: The Musical

The footage provided here is nothing short of amazing. Here we can watch the crumbling ice caps crash into the water, sea birds fight over a whale carcass less than a metre away from the lens and watch thousands of penguins do their thing without any knowledge of the cameras. The detail that is captured by these pictures is brilliant, with every little mollusk and feather clearly visible. The most amusing part of this documentary is when Attenborough himself gets astoundingly close to a baby albatross, which weighs over ten kilograms just after it is born. The little porker and its mother soon realise they’ve got company, prompting Attenborough to let out a nervous giggle and hold his hands up in surrender. Steve Irwin eat your heart out.

Each of the six episodes goes for around 28 minutes, culminating in a 174-minute series. But I assure you you won’t want to stop at one episode once you sit down and witness just what this great series has to offer. As a whole this is one of the most interesting nature documentaries going around in terms of depth, value of information and quality of footage.

As mentioned before you can’t really fault the footage as such. Everything looks so detailed and full of colour which is as much a testament to the talent of the cameramen as the transfer. The series is presented in 4:3, it’s original aspect ratio. On the whole everything looks very good, with the bright whites and splashes of colour in the Antarctic coming up a treat. Sharpness is generally good, though some scenes do look a little softer than others. There is only a minimal amount of grain but nothing at all distracting. A great transfer that will keep you glued to the subject matter throughout.

Here we have a Dolby 2.0 mix that sounds much better than I thought it would. Despite being restricted to the front speakers the mix sound a lot fuller than I had expected. The waves, animal sounds and general ambience is quite immersive for a two channel sound mix, making this one quite enjoyable. It supports the brilliant visuals extremely well and adds to the great Antarctica experience you’ll get on this disc.

Surf's up!

Sadly there is nothing else on this disc. Though I wish distributors would stop embarrassing themselves by listing Scene Selections as an extra, especially since there isn’t anything else on the disc. Totally redundant if you ask me. The English subtitles on the disc are really useful for finding out exactly how to spell and pronounce the names of the animals, which was a bonus when it came to placing the names in my review.

I hadn’t had all that much exposure to David Attenborough’s work before this disc came along, save for some nature documentaries on lazy Sunday afternoons in front of the telly. But this one was so precise and detailed that it was impossible not to be glued to the screen for each of the six brilliant episodes. The visuals are simply stunning and the audio mix does nothing to harm the ears so you’d be a fool if you were a nature documentary fan and didn’t pick this one up. That said, though, wear a jumper because you’ll get quite cold just watching it.