Great Migrations in Not-So-Great SD

Having brought us “free-to-air HD” coverage of the Commonwealth Games that was restricted to My Sky HDi subscribers, Sky TV again is misleading viewers with the promise of a new “epic HD television event”.

That’s how it is promoting a wildlife series that will air in HD globally, Great Migrations.

Unfortunately, Sky doesn’t take National Geographic Channel’s HD feed, so the seven-part documentary will screen here in SD (starting November 7 at 7.30pm).

Asked about the incongruity of promoting an SD premiere under the HD banner, a Sky publicist said the HD description referred to how Great Migrations was filmed!

True enough, the NatGeo publicity claims Great Migrations will reveal “new scientific insights with breathtaking high-definition clarity and emotional impact”.

The good news is Blu-ray owners won’t have to wait long to see this production in all its HD splendour – Madman Entertainment is releasing the Blu-ray of the series in December.

Two-and-a-half years in the making, Great Migrations was shot across 20 countries and seven continents, in a bid to provide “the most-in depth visual record of a diverse range of animal migrations”, including red crabs on Christmas Island, flying foxes in Australia, Pacific great white sharks, Botswana zebras, Mali elephants and army ants in Costa Rica.

Great Migrations has thus far been the most ambitious undertaking in National Geographic Channel history,” said Steve Burns, NatGeo’s executive vice president, content, says.

“We assembled a team of the best wildlife cinematographers in the business and gave them the most advanced technology in existence to capture these incredible stories of survival with life-and-death drama unfolding in every shot.”

Reads Sky’s description of each episode:

Great Migrations: Born To Move

For these animals, moving literally means survival. Witness the dramatic migration of Christmas Island’s red crab, dinner plate-sized creatures that travel en masse from interior forests to mate on the beaches and deliver their young, braving intense battles with ferocious yellow ants; the heartbreaking moment a wildebeest calf falls prey to crocodiles as her mother helplessly watches from the river’s edge, all part of the arduous 480-kilometre journey the wildebeest make each year across Kenya and Tanzania, with danger lurking at every turn; the monarch butterfly’s annual journey in North America that takes four generations to complete; and the marvel of the sperm whale, who may travel more than a million kilometres in a lifetime.

Great Migrations: Need To Breed

The stories of species’ need to reproduce, the obstacles they overcome and the distances they travel to ensure future generations, are awe inspiring. For the first time in nearly 30 years, proof emerges that the white-eared kob is alive and well in war-torn Sudan as they perform a deadly, yet comical-looking mating ritual. This episode also features stunning footage of little red flying foxes soaring across Australian skies with their young wrapped in their mothers’ translucent wings; hard-working army ants on the floors of a Costa Rican rain forest, where the females and their brood of 200,000 larvae demand 30,000 prey corpses a day; and remarkable feeding and breeding behaviours of elephant seals, penguins and black-browed albatross in the Falkland Islands – all creatures that must leave the sea and find land to breed.

Great Migrations: Race To Survive

Every spring in Botswana, hundreds of zebras leave the largest inland delta in the world to make a desperate 250-kilometre slog into hell – a desert of salt and sand – so their bodies can take in much-needed minerals. Shot by the award-winning filmmaking team of Beverly and Dereck Joubert, the journey is documented as never before. Off the coast of Alaska, we see the heartbreaking struggle of Pacific walrus who have become victims of earth’s changing climate. Travelling hundreds of kilometres along ice floes to reach their summer foraging ground, they find fewer and smaller floating ice chunks, unable to hold the walrus population that struggles to occupy these insufficient life rafts. In the untamed early days of the American West, the pronghorn antelope were plentiful and moved freely, proud and unconstrained. Watch one small herd of 200 that follows its ancient migration, travelling north in early spring from southern Wyoming, moving to lower elevations to follow the retreating snow line – a tough journey made even more difficult by human encroachment. Forty feet long and weighing up to 20 tons, the mysterious whale shark is the largest fish in the world. Join them as they migrate to feast on the eggs of spawning fish. Then in Borneo, a single, fragrant fig tree provides the impetus for a chaotic chorus of orang-utans, red leaf monkeys, macaques and grey gibbons who travel from throughout the jungle to feast before the figs rot and drop to the forest floor.

Great Migrations: Feast Or Famine

Witness the fortitude and elegance of Mali elephants as they undertake the longest elephant migration on Earth – a vast, 480-kilometre circle around the heart of landlocked Mali in West Africa. Traversing the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, the only way they can survive is to keep moving across the scorched earth – from water to water, food to food – both in desperately short supply. Great white sharks cover thousands of kilometres of open ocean each year from Hawaii to northern Mexico to reach an abundant feast nearly 250 kilometres off the coast of Guadalupe, Mexico, where the waters are teeming with marine life: mola mola, dolphins, rare beaked whales, fur seals and elephant seals. A rarely filmed attack on a seal by a great white is seen close up, shown in incredible detail from above and below the water’s surface. In the Mississippi River Valley, we find a great winged highway humming with traffic as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, ducks, songbirds, geese and pelicans search for food in this avian crossroads between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada or even the Arctic. Finally, witness the incredible, beautiful sight of golden jellyfish in Palau on a race to follow the sun on their daily migration.

Additional hours include:

Great Migrations: Behind the Scenes (November 7, 8.30pm):

National Geographic crews took dramatic measures during years in the field in pursuit of painstaking shots, including swimming with sharks out of the cage; facing an enormous sandstorm moving at 96 kilometres an hour; making harsh journeys through forbidding and war-torn landscapes seeking the kob of the Sudan; dangling off a 120-metre cliff to get never-before-captured footage of peregrine falcon nestlings; spending 14 hours a day for an entire month 45 metres off the ground in Borneo to film primates in the canopy; and almost getting trapped in the Arctic by ice and shifting currents while filming walruses.

Science of Great Migrations (November 14, 8.30pm):

Investigate the mysteries behind some of the most impressive and puzzling migrations. Watch the intricacies of placing the first radio transmitter on a butterfly and what this triumph of miniaturisation may reveal; follow ingenious scientists tracking elusive elephant seals in the dark and frigid depths with a special tag called a “Daily Diary” with sensors that monitor temperature, speed and light, designed especially to find out what these creatures do during the ten months every year they disappear beneath the surface of the ocean; and meet a man whose life mission has been to study and advocate for the elephants of Africa, only to have historic floods destroy almost everything he has.

The final hour, Great Migrations: Rhythm Of Life (November 28, 7.30pm) sets stunning footage to original music with limited commercial interruption.

The official companion book to the miniseries, Great Migrations: Epic Animal Journeys, will be released to coincide with the global series premiere.

The book includes more than 250 National Geographic photographs, mirroring the incredible stories from around the world told in the film.

National Geographic is also publishing five children’s books, and Great Migrations will be the cover story of the November 2010 National Geographic magazine, which will include a foldout map detailing some of the greatest animal migrations on the planet.

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