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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
What Killed the Mega Beasts? (2002)

"Time and again, the team found small bone fragments, fossilized plant remains. But the precious desiccated dung eluded them still."
- Narrator (Terry Macdonald)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: November 19, 2002

Stars: Terry Macdonald
Director: Chris Lent

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some intense images)
Run Time: 01h:32m:06s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 012236131328
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- BA-B D-

DVD Review

In keeping up with the continuous hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we often lose sight of just how insignificant we as a species are in the grand scheme of our planet's history. Long before human beings ever walked the earth, gigantic creatures vastly populated the world for millions of years. Some of these "Mega Beasts" included nine-foot flightless birds, 17-foot giant beavers, wooly mammoths, and turtles "the size of VW Beetles." Though each of these species has long been extinct, scientists continue to search for the answers behind their demise. Three theories have been generated. The "Chill Theory" indicates that severe climatic changes are the reason for their deaths, the "Ill Theory" subscribes to the possibility of a viral outbreak as the cause of extinction, while the "Kill Theory" is the belief that none other than mankind slaughtered these majestic creatures. In the entertaining and educational What Killed the Mega Beasts? The Discovery Channel combines narration, location footage, and interviews with scientists accompanied by computer-generated recreations of the Mega Beasts to provide a fascinating journey into the life and death of these legendary creatures.

This 90-minute documentary explores each of the three extinction theories comprehensively and objectively. As soon as I was convinced of one theory, I discovered information about another that made me reconsider my prior beliefs. The information is presented in an unbiased fashion that offers keen insight while still allowing viewers to formulate their own interpretations. We witness those who are extremely devoted to one theory, including Ross MacPhee, who is so adamant on proving that the Mega Beasts were killed by a viral infection, that he embarked on a global "dung hunt" in order to find the fossilized remains of these infections. We also discover how there are others, such as ecologist David Burny, who believe that the death of the Mega Beasts was not merely attributed to just one of these theories, but rather a combination of all three.

Overall, What Killed the Mega Beasts? offers insightful and enjoyable entertainment. Yet, while a noble effort, there are significant detriments that may agitate many viewers. The animation often looks quite silly and unrealistic, as is typically the case with computer-generated images. The dramatizations of human predators hunting the Mega Beasts are dreadfully generic and nearly laughable. While Mega Beasts could generally be considered suitable family entertainment, there are hindrances that limit what could have been widely appealing to all ages. First, the running time is much too lengthy. Mega Beasts may have worked well as multiple airings on The Discovery Channel, but watching it in its entirety, I found myself pummeled by an overabundance of redundancies. Any attempts to gather the whole family and watch Mega Beasts in one sitting will most likely prove futile. Though adults may find themselves captivated throughout, children will not have the patience nor the attention spans to go the distance. Furthermore, several frightening images, including a devastating shot of a real-life lion suffering from distemper, may disturb younger viewers. Despite these drawbacks, What Killed the Mega Beasts? is a well executed learning experience. Those who have even a remote interest in the subject matter will find this documentary informative and enlightening.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: What Killed the Mega Beasts? is presented in a nonanamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1. I was quite impressed with the picture quality for a television-based production. The entire image is smooth with an exceptional lack of distracting artifacts. Though comprised of varying footage, each segment appears clean and clear. Colors are bold throughout, and black level is completely dark while still revealing excellent shadow delineation. I was amazed by the level of detail, particularly in the intricate contours found on the skull remnants of the Mega Beasts. This is a very impressive transfer indeed.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The stereo soundtrack is exactly what one would expect from a documentary production. The mix is predominately monaural, with the narrator's voice locked front and center. Occasionally, music and sound effects expand throughout the front soundstage. I also detected minor surround presence with Pro-Logic decoding enabled. While not a particularly thrilling soundtrack, fidelity remains excellent throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Though I did not expect to be graced with a wealth of Mega Beasts special features, subtitles would have been nice. Further adding to my disappointment, the disc begins and ends with a forced Discovery Channel commercial that will prove especially annoying on repeat viewings.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

With all of the major titles yet to come to DVD, What Killed the Mega Beasts? seems a somewhat peculiar decision for release. Nevertheless, Artisan and Discovery have delivered an interesting, informative, and aesthetically pleasing program that is wholly worthy of this digital treatment. What Killed the Mega Beasts? is a welcome addition to our beloved format.

 


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