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BBC Video presents
Walking With Cavemen (2003)

"He has taken the next step in the journey to becoming human. This is the story of what makes him like you."
- Narrator Andrew Sachs

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 16, 2003

Stars: Andrew Sachs, David Rubin, Rachel Essex, Florence Spanham, Faroque Khan
Other Stars: Alex Palmer, Caroline Noh, Badria Timiri, Suzanne Cave
Director: Richard Dale

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (copious nudity, sexuality, violence)
Run Time: 01h:38m:57s
Release Date: June 17, 2003
UPC: 794051173928
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BA B

DVD Review

BBC had both a critical and popular hit with its acclaimed miniseries, Walking with Dinosaurs, using CGI to present dinosaurs in their element in a pseudo-documentary style. This look at the Mesozoic was succeeded by a glimpse at the early portion of the Cenozoic era in Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. To bring matters (nearly) up to the present, the same technique is used to bring human evolution to the screen in Walking with Cavemen.

The two-episode series spans over six million years of time in the space of a little over 90 minutes. Beginning with our earliest known ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, we progress to the competing ape-men of two million years ago: the gorilla-like Paranthropus boisei, the tool-using Homo habilis, and the less-fully-sketched Rudolfensis. The competition of these three races through drought and climatic upheaval brings us to the second episode, devoted to Homo erectus and the spread of man out of Africa to the rest of the world. European man is dealt with in the forms of Homo heidelbergensis and the Neanderthals, as we see their various adaptations to circumstance and their struggles for survival.

The title is actually quite a misnomer, since not until the very end do these human relations dwell in caves; for the most part they live in grassy plains or wooded areas, or in the case of Boisei, among reeds. The program attributes nearly every evolutionary advance to climatic changes. While this is certainly credible (and helps explain a million-year stagnation where Homo erectus did not advance beyond the stone axe), that seems a little pat and simplistic. However, given the relative brevity of the program alternate theories would be bound to receive short shrift. One drawback of the pseudo-documentary style is that situations are presented with single explanations and as established facts, when they are more likely complex and less than certain in nature. This sureness of tone is probably injurious to the educational nature of the program.

Of course, given the almost constant nudity throughout, the program will probably get only limited play in educational circles in any event. Unlike the earlier installments in the series, this edition includes human actors beneath ape and ape-man makeup and costume, in order to more readily provide a glint of humanity in the eyes of our antecedents. The cast does a fine job of impersonating the various creatures, although more of an effort could have been made to emphasize the scale; one seldom gets a sense that most of these creatures were well under five feet in height. There are a few moments of computer graphics, however, most notably in the hunting scenes involving a giant elk and a herd of woolly mammoths. While the mammoth sequence is generally done well and credibly, the giant elk is unconvincing in the extreme and looks like a low-grade videogame. This is rather disappointing after the generally excellent CGI in the earlier installments.

The social and cultural aspects of the lives of these ape-men is given full attention, despite being necessarily pieced together from deduction and guesswork. One of the pleasing aspects of the program is the attention devoted to the evolutionary dead-ends that eventually died out, unable to cope with changed environment, along the way debunking the notion of a direct linear descent through the various human antecedents. Nothing here seems to be obviously incorrect (other than most of the ape-men being suspiciously light-skinned), however, and the explanations and narration by Andrew Sachs move matters along quite briskly. One is left wishing for another hour or so of material.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The program is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with generally excellent color and detail. There tends to be a fair amount of aliasing, however, which lends a somewhat digital appearance to shots that don't actually appear to have any CGI present. Textures, particularly the vast quantities of hair, come through very well. Black levels and shadow details are better than average for the most part.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 surround audio sounds excellent, with terrific presence and depth. Bass from the percussive score by Alan Parker has a very thunderous impact, while higher registers and strings do not suffer from shrillness or sounding compressed. The surrounds are generally active, primarily with music from the score, with the narration remaining center-anchored. The result is very clean and one of the better 2.0 mixes I've run across. The narration and the apemen communications all sound fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Production Notes
Isolated Music Score
1 Documentaries
7 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
Packaging: Unknown
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Promos for other BBC Video programs
Extras Review: BBC Video supports the program well with a variety of extras. A 15-minute discussion with the producers gives some of the technical background behind the making of the program, while a series of short featurettes (three to six minutes in length) are centered on specific topics ranging from the difficulty of acting in ape suits or in the nude, to the special effects work and other topics. One may also compare the scenes of the giant elk hunt and the mammoth hunt against the original storyboards (which are quite different) and the animatics for the CGI portions.

Eight excerpts from the original score (mostly from the first episode) and the main title theme are accessible over a still frame screen. A "fact file" section provides technical background on each of the ape-men featured in the program, including details on the fossils recovered for each of them. Wrapping up the package is a photo gallery featuring about three dozen shots, with captions. While not the fullest special edition, there's plenty of valuable and interesting content here.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

An all too short but convincing look at human evolution, including evolutionary dead ends, over the millennia, with very good costumery and makeup work but occasionally iffy CGI in support. Quite a few featurettes back up the feature, with a number of other valuable extras.

 


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