Top PBS HD Documentaries of 2008

I have recently been matching many PBS documentaries on Nature and Nova, which are now all broadcast in high definition (HD). (I've been watching these via my personal media network, incidentally.) What follows is a list of the best such documentaries for 2008, and a brief synopsis. Also see my recommendations for the top PBS documentaries of 2006-7.
  1. Nature: White Falcon, White Wolf. The compressed 3-month breeding season of two different species on Ellesmere Island is captured in remarkable close-up footage. The Gyrfalcon parents catch and carry hares back to a stunning cliffside nest to feed their growing young. The arctic wolves explore the countryside during the brief burst of wildlife growth and color before winter enshrouds the land for another 9 months. The footage is beautiful and the animals are fascinating. The animals make the most of their brief spring, summer, and fall. You'll find you appreciate your 3-month seasons even more.
  2. Nova: Cracking the Maya Code. The Mayans created an elaborate, ornate written language carved in stone and recorded in books. The invading Europeans destroyed huge numbers of books and forbid use of the language. Within a few hundred years the writing became unreadable, seemingly lost to humankind forever. In the twentieth century, in fits and starts, researchers rediscovered the meaning of the Mayan hieroglyphs. The personalities and genius involved are fascinating and amazing. The Mayan writing is beautiful and artistic. Most of all, the realization that written human knowledge could become inscrutable and lost to mankind within a few hundred years is a scary and humbling prospect. The trappings of civilization may be far more fleeting and ephemeral than it seems.
  3. Nova: Secrets of the Parthenon. The massive Parthenon in Athens, Greece was assembled in 8 short years without the aid of modern heavy machinery. Even so, the parts fit together precisely, to tolerances of less than a millimeter. And fastidious attention to design detail makes it look even more impressive, while guaranteeing that no two stones are alike. This episode describes how the team repairing the Parthenon discovered that the task was even more challenging than imagined. You will gain even more respect for the accomplishments of the ancient Greeks when you learn the extent of their design and construction wizardry.
  4. Nature: Christmas in Yellowstone. A windy, snow-covered landscape makes a beautiful backdrop for numerous hardy animal species and a few hardy humans as well. This episode shows highlights of foxes, wolves, elk, caribou, bison, and more. The fauna are intermingled with the natural beauty of the park, from waterfalls to hot springs to geysers to frozen lakes and rivers. With so much to cover the time for any one species or location is limited, but as a close-up, scenic look at numerous aspects of the park this episode is spectacular. Great for watching with the whole family.
  5. Nature: Drakensberg: Barrier of Spears. The nomadic trek of the eland from the lowest valleys to the highest peaks of the treacherous volcanic mountains of southern Africa is documented. The demanding terrain and fickle weather leave numerous victims for the scavengers. A variety of other wildlife are shown, from chipmunk-like ice rats to crab-eating frogs. The stunning terrain and hardiness of the diverse wildlife make this a fascinating episode, but the squeamish may want to pass due to the high mortality rate.
  6. Nature: Arctic Bears. Grizzly Bears and Polar Bears shared ancestors but have been geographically separated until recently. With the arctic ice receding and the tundra warming, the two species are now meeting and sometimes interbreeding. This episode focuses on how the specially evolved polar bears are having difficulty in their changed environment while grizzlies are adapting fairly well. Lots of beautiful arctic scenery is intermixed with amazing footage of polar bears swimming and hunting on the receding arctic ice.
  7. Nova: Incredible Journey of the Butterflies. Monarch Butterflies are shown making their astounding multi-generational migration from Canada to Mexico and back. These tiny animals must feed themselves, evade predators, and endure the elements while traveling a huge distance. Even more impressive, they mus follow a path they have never before traveled. In Mexico, they cluster in a small forested mountain area and cover the trees during the winter. Impressive, mystifying, and beautiful.

Last modified on 16 May 2009 by AO

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