LAST CHANCE TO SEE [Blu-ray]
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Last Chance to See is a wildlife documentary first broadcast on BBC Two in the United Kingdom during September and October 2009. The series is a follow-up of the radio series, also called Last Chance to See, in which Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine set out to find endangered animals. In this updated television version, produced for the BBC, Stephen Fry and Carwardine revisit the animals originally featured to see how they're getting on almost 20 years later.
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This BBC series of 6 shows, presented by actor and polymath Stephen Fry and the same zoologist who accompanied Adams, Carwardine, retraces the steps of the earlier expedition in an effort to see how the animals are now faring. I can think of no greater compliment to pay this effort than to proclaim that Adams, who died in May of 2001, would have been "over the moon" to see this movie--although he would undoubtedly be horrified to discover the state of some of the animals he came to cherish, not least the Yangtze river dolphin, which has since been declared officially extinct.
Fry, who was very good friends with Adams is a natural stand-in for the role of wry, wise, innocent, awe-struck and witty commentator that Adams formerly played. It is Fry's child-like enthusiasm, his touching vulnerability (wed to a remarkable gameness in the face of genuine dangers and discomforts), and his brilliant comments (could really have come up with "kiwi-pedia" on the spot when referring to a source of information about the flightless bird?) that make the series especially compelling. Ordinarily there is nothing I hate more that movies about nature that instead focus on people (where Steve Irwin really fell down, I think, is that his enthusiasm became his shtick and the chances he took belied a LACK of proper respect for nature, and he simply became more important through such excesses than the animals for whom he was presumably meant to be carnival barker). The Life (narrated by David Attenborough) [Blu-ray] BBC series gets things exactly right in this regard, I think, and allows the animals, plants, and natural settings and features stand largely on their own without a lot of human intervention to keep the story flowing.
But in this case one man's journey--Fry's that is--is as much the point as the animals themselves are. Because Fry is a perfect everyman. A bit clumsy (he trips on a boat on their first adventure, into the Amazon, breaking his arm badly and having to fly to Miami for extensive reconstructive surgery), not terribly knowledgeable, reluctant to give up the trappings of civilization, cautiously hopeful but poignantly realistic about wildlife's chances--he stands perfectly for an audience of people like most of us. He is Watson to Carwardine's Sherlock Holmes. It is a strikingly effective and entertaining human-centered view of conservation.
Besides Carwardine and Fry, the stars of this wonderful series include manatees, rhinos, Komodo dragons, whales, sea horses, kakapos (strange, plump flightless parrots), lemurs, and a cast of fascinating extras, with terrific cameos (like the one by a pygmy chameleon--an unbelievably tiny adult lizard).
I cannot recommend this series more highly, but I would add a strong suggestion: If you have not read Adams's book yet, read that first. It's far from necessary, but will add an extra layer of enjoyment to your viewing experience (and is well-worth the effort in any case). If you're not much of a reader, visit the BBC's Last Chance to See website for links to radio shows and other media presentations of Adams's original work related to the book. Understanding the context for this new series helps enrich your sense of tragedy and accomplishment as various conservation successes (Komodo dragon) and failures (northern white rhino) unfold.
To come back, 20 yrs later, and see how the animals from the book have fared were in some cases, like the Yangtze river dolphin, incredibly sad and in others, like the kakapos, incredibly hopeful. Last Chance to See shows how easily and unthinkingly an entire species can be decimated, removing forest to plant palms for oil, but it also shows how hard and diligently people work to save a species. It saddens you to see the damage humans cause but in the end Last Chance to See leaves you with some hope.
Naturally, being Stephen Fry, the series is laced with humor, not all of which is intended. Fry is one of the few people to whom I can point as evidence that there are individuals more clumsy than myself. In the first episode he manages to fall into a boat and shatter his arm, and later, while attempting to entice an aye-aye (a nocturnal lemur) by offering it an egg, Fry ruins the treat when he treads on the egg. All his tribulations (living rough is not one of his preferred lifestyle choices) he endures with stoicism, while his partner, a naturalist, raves about the wonders of the jungle.
It's an educational and entertaining series. The only pity is that Douglas Adams, on whose book the trip was based, couldn't be there too. I'd have loved to see him and Fry on the trail together.
But as most reviews are of the dvd, let me say that the blu-ray is very good. There are times where it's a little grainy for HD but not detracting. Most of the time it's understandable...evening shots, or when they are using their personal cameras (I'm guessing) for a "video diary." Most of the time the visuals are great. But maybe I'm more forgiving than others as I've seen grainy parts in all the blu-ray nature docs we own (recent more famous examples being Planet Earth, Life, and Human Planet). Though if I had to guess, there were slightly more grainy shots in this blu-ray than the other examples I've mentioned. But again, not detracting enough to make is less enjoyable. Still good visually.