Review of Ballad Of Big Al,The
"Walking with Dinosaurs" has been a spectacular success for the BBC, in terms of critical acclaim, viewing figures and sales of both the video and DVD versions. It was therefore inevitable that a follow-up program would appear, to help satisfy the public`s insatiable demand for programs about dinosaurs - an interest which Spielberg`s "Jurassic Park" rekindled a few years ago.
"The Ballad of Big Al" centres on the discovery of a remarkable fossil in Wyoming, USA several years ago, which was so complete that it has allowed scientists to recreate the short life of "Big Al" - an Allosaurus.
The video is presented in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen and, like the first series, is of a very high standard throughout, with plenty of detail and no grain. My only complaint was a slight shimmer on one scene.
Visually, this disc is another treat for dinosaur lovers and fans of the original series, with the CGI dinosaurs recreated beautifully in the Arizona and Utah deserts and forests. Of particular note is a chase sequence over the bed of a dry lake, which is superb, and as good as, if not better, than anything that Hollywood has to offer.
One of the main grumbles about the first series was the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and unfortunately, being made for television, "The Ballad of Big Al" retains a Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack - and doesn`t offer even Pro-Logic surround.
This is very disappointing, as a full Dolby Digital 5.1 remix for the DVD would have elevated this DVD from being very good to being superb - the afore mentioned chase sequence for example would be a reference quality scene with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
Having completed my rant, it has to be said that the soundtrack provided is more than adequate and combines effects, music and Kenneth Branagh`s narration very well.
There is a photo gallery, which contains 58 photos from both "The Ballad of Big Al" and "Walking With Dinosaurs", each annotated with relevant information. Also on offer is a storyboard comparison, which replays the dry lake chase sequence overlaid with the original storyboards to allow the view to see how the director intended the scene, and how it actually came out.
The DVD also contains a sampler of the BBC`s "Walking With Dinosaurs" CD-ROM. If you have a look at the contents of the disc in Windows Explorer, you`ll find some nice wallpaper and still images from the program!
The disc is packaged in the standard BBC silver Amaray case, which contains an informative 16 page booklet about the program. This booklet, however uses white text on a silver background, and is hard to read under lighting as the light reflects off the silver pages and therefore would be a nightmare to read for anybody who is visually impaired.
"The Ballad of Big Al" consists of two programs - the first is essentially a further episode of "Walking With Dinosaurs" which looks at Al`s life from the moment he first ventures out of the security of his egg, to the moment he gasps his last breath. With the same high production values as the original series, this program is entertaining and informative.
The second program is a look at the science behind recreating the life of Al after the discovery of his skeleton. This is actually more interesting than the first program and is also very well made with Al taking part for good measure. This program features interviews with the scientists involved, a visit to the site where Al was discovered and the comparisons between Al and his closest living relatives which allowed the scientists to guess how Al would have eaten and behaved.
Video is excellent and the sound is also good, although it would have been so much better with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The extras aren`t especially exciting however.
The good news is that "The Ballad of Big Al" has a suggested retail price of £12.99 and as I picked it up in the "20% off" sale for £10.40, it represents good value despite the relatively short 63 minute running time.