It just wouldn’t be summer without The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week extravaganza. What started back in 1988 as a themed week of specials has turned into the longest running annual series of programming on cable. Every year The Discovery Channel gives up its normal collection of educational shows to concentrate on that feared predator of the deep. Man’s always had a rather natural, and healthy, fear of sharks, but it was perhaps the 1975 film Jaws that brought all of those primordial fears bubbling to the surface of our pop culture. Since then sharks have taken an almost mythic position in our culture. They invade our fears, but more importantly they fascinate the heck out of us. Young or old, it doesn’t matter. Sharks are the new dinosaurs, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. As Discovery plans out yet another annual invasion of these perfect killing machines, you get to have an encounter of the high definition kind. Come face to face with some of the most dangerous creatures on the planet, with a level of clarity and detail that was once reserved only for those who shared their waters.
It’s quite nice to have a collection of these shows on Blu-ray and in high definition. There are some downsides, however. The shows aren’t necessarily the best I’ve seen on the series. Most of them are pretty recent. I suspect many of the classics aren’t going to be as easily available in HD. The second problem is redundancy. I’ve always been a big critic of editing shows for home release. Here I think it might have been a good idea. Many of these shows do rather extensive recaps each time they come back from an anticipated break. Of course, here there are no breaks, so we have to watch some material several times in the same 40 minute segment. The point really gets driven home. I have to ask myself if it is really that necessary to recap so often. Are the breaks so long that we can so easily forget what we were watching? I’d suggest that Discovery give a little more credit to their viewer’s intelligence.
There are 6 specials, taken from the course of the series.
Surviving Sharks: Les Stroud is known as The Survivor Man. No he didn’t win a million bucks by not getting kicked off an island. Les puts himself in real danger in the hopes of figuring out some safety tips to help swimmers avoid being shark food. He examines some of the common elements of shark attacks. Is it better to kick or lie still? That sort of thing. His methods aren’t the most scientific and are actually contradicted by some more thorough experiments on other episodes on this release.
How Not To Be Shark Bait: Apparently there are people out there who’ve placed getting bitten by a shark on their bucket list. The show follows three such guys as they get together with a shark expert to provoke an attack by a lemon shark. Of course, they’re not totally daft and wear the latest in shark protection, including a chain mail suit over their wetsuit. The point of the episode is to show how hard it is to actually get bitten, even when you want to. Our one “hero” finally gets his wish. Various shark safety protocols are put to the test.
Mysteries Of The Shark Coast: This is by far the weakest segment, but unfortunately, one of the longest at about 90 minutes. A group of “shark detectives” attempt to track, study, and tag sharks off the Australian Coast. They are trying to find out why numbers are dwindling there but remain healthy in a remote location. They explain that this place is not currently protected by Australian conservation laws and yet is thick with sharks. They talk about how important it is, and then proceed to show us a chart with the exact coordinates of the island. I wonder how the sharks are doing there now. There is a lot more Jacques Clouseau than Jacques Cousteau. These guys remind me of The Three Stooges playing coppers. They bungle a lot of the work. You can just imagine what it really looked like if this was the best they could get out of a careful edit. Maybe they shouldn’t be seen drinking a lot of beer while they were working. The biggest disappointment is the inclusion of a granddaughter to legendary Jacques Cousteau. She reveals herself to be remarkably ignorant on the subject of marine biology. This one’s a stinker.
Mythbusters: Shark Special 2: Now this is what I’m talkin’ about. What do you get when you combine 2 of Discovery’s most popular franchises? You get 90 minutes of very entertaining and educational television. The Mythbusters team takes to the waters to test out some of the popular myths about shark attacks: Does a dog in the water increase your chances of an attack? Is it better to play dead or swim frantically? Do flashlights or bright colors attract sharks? Do magnets repel sharks? How about gouging the eyes of a shark that is attacking? The team builds a cool mechanical shark and a mechanical dog to test some of the theories. For others it’s humans in the water and a few comical moments with the entire team. The best of both worlds. They should have included the first of these shows.
Day Of The Shark: Maybe it’s a bit of morbid fascination, that inner curiosity that causes us to rubberneck at horrible accidents. Whatever it is, it seems that the public can’t get enough of those incredible and gory wounds suffered by shark attack victims. A Shark Week wouldn’t be complete without at least one of those shows, and so I suppose neither would a Shark Week collection. Meet some shark attack survivors as they tell their stories.
Dirty Jobs: Greenland Shark Quest: This is another Discovery Channel crossover featuring the team from Dirty Jobs. The team joins a group of Greenland researchers to study one of the least understood sharks in the world. These Greenland sharks live in frigid water temps and are huge but very slow. The team must go out on the frozen ocean and dig a hole to catch these creatures. One of them is dissected, and you get the whole process.
Each of these episodes is presented in its original HD broadcast 1.78:1 format. Obviously many of you only saw full frame versions depending on when you and your carrier made the HD switch. Most of the images are very crisp. You’ll get to see details on these animals that are truly remarkable. For some reason there are some really annoying black specs on the Mythbusters episode. Still the picture is fully 1080i brought to you through an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Colors are often quite outstanding. There’s a ton of ocean footage here, and some of it is breathtaking. You have to understand that most of this is documentary footage, so some of it is better than others. What you can be sure of is that it hasn’t looked better. My only complaint is the low bit rate. You often get as little as 10 mbps, which is barely out of DVD territory. There were too many episodes put on one disc here, so there is compression artifact. Fortunately there aren’t a ton of really black scenes, because the artifact seriously compromises the black levels.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is pretty solid. There’s a ton of dialog here, and it works well. There’s not a lot of ambient sound here, but I’m not really missing that at all.
You get 3 bonus episodes in standard definition: Shark Attack Files IV: Summer Of The Shark, Dirty Jobs: Jobs That Bite, and Dirty Jobs: Jobs That Bite…Harder.
Shark Week has become a staple, but I’ll have to admit I often get so busy I completely miss them. Getting a chance to catch up in HD is a promising proposition. I know. I know. With all of the DVR’s and recorders I have, there’s really no excuse to miss my favorite shows. I’m too busy watching the latest in home video for you guys. I guess that makes me a truly “dying breed”.