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Some of us might be old enough to remember the early days of cable television, when the advertising money wasn’t enough to sustain much in the way of original programming. When most of the stations we now consider the high end of the format started they didn’t have a lot to work with, and were forced to rerun stuff produced for other purposes. For this reason movie stations had it the easiest. The Discovery Channel, which was launched in 1985, started as a sort of collection depot for nature and science documentaries. Over the years they developed original series and additional channels, but one event has remained a constant source of revenue and excitement for more than twenty years—Shark Week. For this Blu-ray release the Discovery Channel has collected six full episodes of shark related series specials, so that fans can have their very own Shark Week any day of the year.

Shark Week: The Greatest Bites Collection
Surviving Sharks sees Survivorman host Les Stroud putting himself and his friends in danger in hopes of informing us how to survive various shark related situations. I’m personally not a fan of Survivorman’s unintentionally hilarious brand of melodrama, and this episode is more unbelievably melodramatic than most, including a goofy musical score worthy of the Metal Gear video game series. It’s kind of goofy, but not nearly as goofy as How Not to Become Shark Bait, where three idiots looking to be bitten by sharks put themselves in needlessly dangerous situations to prove… something. I guess they’re supposed to be warnings on how not to handle a situation, but things feel more like they could break into Faces of Death any minute. Unfortunately, nothing really happens, mostly both shows just prove it’s really hard to get attacked by a shark.

Mysteries of the Shark Coast is less dramatic than the rest of the collection’s episodes, but is probably the most informative, as the scientists conducting the on-screen experiments are genuinely learning something about shark behaviour, rather than proving things most eight year old boys already know. The team and narrator are more personable and ‘real’ than the tough guys and personalities running us through Surviving Sharks and How Not to Become Shark Bait. There are actually lessons to be learned here about over-fishing and other environmental factors that have put the creatures in increasing danger, along with cool information concerning the technical aspects of studying underwater creatures. Animal rights activists that don’t appreciate scientists messing with the beasts (even if they are trying to help them) should joy at the site of a tiger shark knocking one of the taggers unconscious with his own pole.

Shark Week: The Greatest Bites Collection
The best part of the set is Mythbusters: Shark Special 2, the Mythbusters’ second shot at disproving various shark related tall tales. This second helping features fewer Jaws specific myths, which should make the proceedings less interesting to a film nut, but the actual entertainment value is even higher this time around, thanks in great part to the efforts of the Mythbusters personalities. Really every myth tested leads to a share of entertainment and informational value, but highlights include Grant Imahara creating an impressively realistic robotic dog, Jamie and Adam testing various simple shark repellents, including magnets and chili powder (neither of which really worked against big sharks), Grant and Tory Belleci tossed into the water with frenzied sharks to test what kind of movement attracted sharks, and a really cool industrial sized mechanical shark set to stop thrashing when its eye socket is pressed.

Day of the Shark is pure, visceral, goofy fun, concerned with extreme real-life shark attacks. The show is made up of melodramatic, music video cut reenactments, interviews with the subjects, and occasional photos of the real carnage. Most unfortunately the best story comes first, which involves a surfer being eviscerated by a great white. The dude is saved in part by a pod of pissed off dolphins that attack the shark, likely not to save the human, but simply because dolphins seem to naturally hate sharks. The rest of the short feature is more of the same, minus dolphin rescues. Not for the squeamish.

Shark Week: The Greatest Bites Collection
The episodes not considered extras by the disc’s producers end with Dirty Jobs: Greenland Shark Quest. Host Mike Rowe and his crew take to Northern Canada in search of the elusive Greenland Shark. Why? Because they were asked to, that’s why. The special kind of stretches the series theme of dirty jobs that make modern life possible, in that the crew is doing scientific work that isn’t necessarily intrinsic to modern life, but it is in-keeping with the usual sarcastic and warm tone, and Rowe does manage to capture the difficulty of such work. The hi-def video insures that the audience experiences at least a fraction of the freezing cold.

Video


The video quality various throughout the disc, but the overall consistency between shows is relatively persistent (though Mysteries of the Shark Coast is the ‘weakest’ of the collection). The video quality depends on the surroundings, which vary in lighting and environmental elements. On the whole we’re talking about the difference between full on perfection, and relatively gorgeous. The variances are in grain, which increases when situations are at their darkest, and details, which also decreases when lighting is either too low or too high. The colours also vary based on environmental ideals, but fans of shark footage should find themselves swimming in beautiful blues and greens. The underwater stuff is the most exciting (and feature some fun bits of poppy contrast from diving gear), but the most impressive moments are aboard boats, where the waves of blue appear so realistic you can almost touch them. Despite the increase in grain and loss of detail in dark scenes, underwater night scenes feature some powerfully deep blacks. The Dirty Jobs special’s time in the Artic leads to the set’s finest bright whites, while the Mythbusters special features the most variety of bright colours.

Shark Week: The Greatest Bites Collection

Audio


The consistently impressive video quality doesn’t quite extend to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, which definitely vary from show to show. The less impressive shows don’t feature distorted or damaged audio, they simply feature less in the way of exciting surround and stereo effects. Most of the activity outside of the centre channel is devoted to the various musical scores (which is where Survivorman sets itself apart through intensely silly music), but there are plenty of artificial sound effects added to the underwater footage. These added effects are the track’s coolest moments, and do genuinely create an illusion of immersion. The narration is perfectly clear and consistent throughout every show, and the LFE channel is positively throbbing throughout the collection.

Extras


For extras Discovery includes three additional shark related episodes. First up is Shark Attack Files IV: Summer of the Shark (50:00, SD). This is the most cheaply produced special on the entire set, with ham-fisted re-enactments, ugly, public-access-like titles, and awkward camera work. The special starts as an informative look at the media frenzy that accompanied a series of shark attacks in 2001, but the overall study features basically a random assortment of shark attack stories from different years, all using a similar formula of set up, scary part, and assurance that sharks aren’t actually bad creatures. It’s not great, but good enough as an extra.

Shark Week: The Greatest Bites Collection
The second and third episodes are the first and second Dirty Jobs: Jobs that Bite specials. In the first part (80:00, SD) Mike Rowe learns to chum the water, bait great whites, watches great whites underwater, dissects a tiger shark (that’s a whole lot of liver), tags some great whites, makes shark repellent, tests shark repellent, and practices shark watching (not very dirty). In the second part (41:00, SD) Mike learns some taxidermy, including making moulds and painting the final project, repairs chain mail, chops chum, and goofs off with the crew. All good fun.

Overall


If you’re looking for a nature documentary to use as a reference sample for your high definition TV, and want the extra added entertainment value of the various Discovery Channel personalities, you might want to give this reasonably priced collection a purchase consideration. I don’t personally see myself sticking the disc in for another go-round anytime soon, but I can find little to complain about, even if the shows presented aren’t exactly consistent in their quality. The audio and video qualities are somewhat inconsistent as well, but overall pretty impressive, and the extra added value of three standard definition episodes is a definite plus.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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