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Into the wild

New nature series examines Canada's wilderness in stunning detail

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Well, this makes perfect sense.

As film and television production technology continues to advance, one of the genres that has benefited greatly is the nature documentary. Thanks to high-definition, super-slow-motion, extreme-elements-proof cameras and digital-editing capabilities, we are seeing Earth's natural wonders in ways that, just a few years ago, were beyond the scope of the imagination.

TV REVIEW

Wild Canada

Thursday, March 13, at 8 p.m.

CBC

4 1/2 stars out of 5

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If you've experienced such recent hugely ambitious series as Planet Earth, Life and Human Planet, you know how spectacular nature programming can be. And when you consider the size, climatic scope and wildlife variety that Canada encompasses, it must surely have been only a matter of time until someone decided a full-scale documentary examination of this country was in order.

CBC's The Nature of Things has delivered just such a project, in the form of Wild Canada, a jaw-droppingly impressive four-part series that begins March 13, at 8 p.m.

The series -- narrated, of course, by TNOT host David Suzuki -- was shot by Vancouver-based filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner, who have contributed to such landmark BBC-produced efforts as Frozen Planet and Planet Earth. In preparing Wild Canada, the couple employed 20 different cameras, including the RED Epic cameras used to shoot the big-screen feature The Hobbit, and captured nearly 500 hours of footage, which were then edited down to Wild Canada's four-hour duration.

The first episode, The Eternal Frontier, effectively serves as a series overview, sweeping from coast to coast to coast while at the same time offering a historical context for Canada's current wildlife situation. Suzuki points out how appropriate our country is for such documentary examination, citing the facts that Canada has the largest expanse of coastline in the world, contains the most surface fresh water, and boasts the largest intact forest anywhere.

His cross-country exploration begins on the East Coast, with a look at the annual migration of humpback whales to feed in the rich waters off Newfoundland. The footage is stunning, as expected.

From there, Suzuki takes viewers into Canada's boreal forest, for a rare look at the winter activities of the elusive wolverine and a visit with a mother polar bear who has just emerged from her snow-covered den with two new cubs.

Later, the introductory instalment of Wild Canada makes a stop in Manitoba, where the Turners have captured remarkable images of the annual springtime mating of red-sided garter snakes near Narcisse -- a slithering procreational frenzy which, Suzuki explains, is the largest gathering of snakes anywhere.

The Eternal Frontier moves through the Prairies and into the Rocky Mountains, where a brief snippet of film that follows a mountain goat up a steep cliff wall surely ranks as one of the series' highlights.

A segment in the temperate rainforest of the West Coast follows a black bear (which, owing to some genetic aberration, is actually white) as it attempts to catch fish in a rushing stream (a nature-doc standby, done beautifully here). The hour concludes with a tour of the northern tundra and the high Arctic, the latter of which, Suzuki points out, is Canada's last frontier and the region undergoing the most rapid human-caused transformation as a result of climate change.

The narrative in this first instalment doesn't always move smoothly; at times it seems that Suzuki's voice-over serves only as a connector between nature-footage segments. But that's just fine -- the images are the reason anyone's going to watch Wild Canada in the first place, and they're amazing.

Episode 2 examines The Wild West; No. 3 focuses on The Heartland; and the final instalment, Ice Edge, ventures to the country's extreme northern climes.

CBC is expanding the viewing experience by launching a Wild Canada app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch (available free from the App Store until March 14), as well as an interactive Wild Canada website.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2014 C6

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