Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pandas: The Journey Home Blu-ray 2D / 3D / DVD Combo Pack Review

Reviewed by Allie Schembra
After thriving for millions of years in the bamboo forests of mountainous western China, giant pandas were brought to the brink of extinction by human expansion of the past few centuries. But thanks to a major commitment by the Chinese government and dedicated individuals, there is new hope for the bear's survival and ability to thrive on its own. PANDAS: THE JOURNEY HOME invites viewers to witness the birth, nursery care and teaching of panda cubs - all leading to eventually moving them back into the wild. Audiences will fall in love anew with this iconic, delightful creature and better understand the desperate plight of pandas in the wild. The filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to the Wolong Panda Center in China to bring to light the work (and play) required to secure the animal's future in the wild. Actress Joely Richardson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Nip/Tuck) narrates this informative and heart-melting look at the challenges facing this fun-loving, resilient creature. 
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Joely Richardson narrates this interesting look at pandas and their lives both in and out of captivity. Beginning with the mating of the pandas and monitoring of the newborns. It’s a look at the nurturing and raising of baby pandas from conception to young adulthood. Many of the pandas were rescued from the Panda Base, a conservation center decimated by an earthquake, where they were rehabilitated and released back into the wild. When Mary, once of the conservationists, and someone who knows the pandas very well, returns to the center, she works with a team on what’s called “wild training.” This program, which removes human interaction for a few years, which will teach them how to survive in the wild. The cubs are placed in a two acre enclosure with their mothers who teach them how to live.

The interaction humans will have with the pandas is limited, but when they do need to enter the enclosure, they dress in suits that look and smell authentic, so it masks the scent of the humans. As they enter the enclosure to get the pandas ready to move to the larger enclosure, they have to be quick, because the pandas have learned how to survive. The larger enclosure is the last step to releasing them to the wild. In this are, they need to find bamboo and water, which is more difficult to do since humans have cut down much of the forest in order to farm. In addition to the challenges related to humans, the captive pandas cannot be released into the wild until they are taught to avoid predators. To do this, the handlers bring in stuffed leopards and play the roar when the panda gets too close. Once the pandas have learned about predators, they are released, with a GPS-enabled collar into the wild, where it is hoped they will mate and survive.

I’ve been watching a lot of BBC nature documentaries lately, so unfortunately, I compared this National Geographic one to those. While definitely not on the same level, it was informative and I found myself choking up and in awe of the pandas. Whether you agree or not, zoos and sanctuaries do a lot of good in the way of studying these animals and helping them survive. Without them, pandas would likely be extinct and these efforts are doing a lot to help grow the population, even though it’s very slow-going.

I am not trying to lecture anyone on the importance of these animals or start a debate on why zoos and sanctuaries are good or bad. I’m just amazed that these places have the resources available to help pandas grow, to help them procreate and then teach them how to survive in the wild. The lengths they go to are amazing. The staff at the sanctuary was so careful and caring with the animals and was really involved, while also understanding the need for distance to the pandas could learn to survive on their own in the wild. While not up to par with the BBC Earth documentaries, this was a good and specific look at pandas and how to help with their survival.
Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Blu-ray 2D/3D - The widescreen presentation of Pandas: The Journey Home was really good. The picture was very clear and sharp and the colors were gorgeous. It was a very pretty film to watch.

DVD – While the picture isn’t as sharp on the DVD as it is on the Blu-ray, it was still good. The colors weren’t as bright and there was a bit more blur than in the Blu-ray.
Audio (3 out of 5 stars)
The audio on both the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio Blu-ray and 5.1 Dolby Digital DVD were good. The narration was clear and the background music was even. It was pretty music and I liked listening to the disc as a whole. The snaps of the twigs, calls of the pandas were all clear and easy to hear. It sounded natural and not overly produced.
Extras (1/2 out of 5 stars)
The only special feature included is the 1980s documentary about saving the pandas and the efforts to keep them from going extinct. While I appreciate the efforts, watching the documentary angered me – seeing how the pandas were studied and kept in such small cages, captured, poked and prodded, spoken to -- I had to keep telling myself that this was the 80s and science has come a long way since then. I honestly wanted to turn it off because I was getting so angry and sad and wanted to cry watching it. I actually hated this feature and hope to never have to watch it again.
  • Save the Panda – Watching an hour-long National Geographic documentary from so long ago really brought back memories or sitting in science class in grade school with the lights off watching a show on a tube television set on a wheeled rack in the front of the room. That’s what I watched. It even had the theme song so many 80s kids are familiar with. The documentary begins with the discovery of the pandas by the Western world in the late 1800s/early 1900s and touches on many of the same topics that the shorter, main film has. It really focuses on the conservation efforts that were begun after the pandas were almost wiped off the earth.
Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The main feature of Pandas: The Journey Home is very good. The original documentary, which is included as a special feature, angered me and made me hate everything about the science. As I said above, I had to keep reminding myself that it was the 1980s and that was the top of the science chain, but I still hated it. The updated feature, which I enjoyed, was much more up-to-date and gave more insight into the conservation efforts and how science has advanced over the decades. While I may not watch this as often as I watch other documentaries, I may pull it out to watch the cuteness of the baby pandas and the humans in panda suits.

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