Reeling - Rene Rodriguez

‘Planet Earth II’ startles on 4K UHD Blu-ray

A snow leopard makes a rare filmed appearance in ‘Planet Earth II,’ the BBC Earth series released on 4K UHD Blu-ray this week.
A snow leopard makes a rare filmed appearance in ‘Planet Earth II,’ the BBC Earth series released on 4K UHD Blu-ray this week. BBC EARTH

The Himalayan snow leopard is one of the world’s most elusive animals — Sean Penn’s photographer character in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” spent months tracking one just to get a snapshot — but you’d never guess it from watching “Planet Earth II,” the BBC Earth documentary series released on home video this week.

The “Mountains” episode of the miniseries, which is available on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD, includes plentiful scenes of snow leopards in the wild, including a mother resorting to extreme lengths to protect her cub from two male cats.

The harrowing footage, which created a stir on social media when the show was originally televised by the BBC in November, leaves you wondering how it could have possibly been filmed without someone getting killed. Fortunately, the discs include making-of featurettes about each of the episodes, revealing how the filmmakers were able to capture the remarkable images.

Themed around different types of locales (including jungles, deserts, islands and cities), the six episodes of “Planet Earth II” are the kind of startling nature documentaries you can’t look away from — especially if you’re watching the 4K UHD discs. Much like the previous “Planet Earth” series helped to push the then-nascent Blu-ray format into the mainstream in 2007, “Planet Earth II” will be the tipping point for video enthusiasts who have been circling 4K technology but haven’t yet pulled the trigger.

The 4K UHD discs boast the most vivid, life-like image you’ve ever seen on your TV screen, with a spectrum of colors so rich you’ll have to invent names for some of then (plain old “red” doesn’t really describe the uncanny hue of the shells of the crabs from the “Islands” episode).

Although “Planet Earth II” aired in the U.S. earlier this year, the 4K UHD presentation is the first time the show will be viewable in the way it was intended, with its astonishing spectrum of fine detail (2160 lines of resolution instead of the HD standard of 1080). UHD TVs and discs use a technology called HDR (short for High Dynamic Range), which boosts contrast and black levels. That’s what makes the image so much more vibrant than regular HD images — and what makes that snow leopard in “Planet Earth II” look like it’s about to leap right into your living room.