Planet Earth

British naturalist Sir David Attenborough does it again. With the combined resources of the BBC and US cable TV’s Discovery Channel, his five-year-long project to show us our planet comes to the screen in spectacular fashion.

The series premiered early in 2007 on Discovery and has now been released in a 5-disc DVD set with approximately 11.5 hours worth of stunning photography and incredible animal stories collected from an amazing range of locations. The DVD set includes these (typically hour-long) programs:

  • From Pole to Pole (the opening overview of the series)
  • Mountains
  • Fresh Water
  • Caves
  • Deserts
  • Ice Worlds
  • Great Plains
  • Jungles
  • Shallow Seas
  • Seasonal Forests
  • Oceans Deep

The final disc talks about “the future” and includes segments with recommendations for “saving species,” as well as an acknowledgement of the value of wilderness to the experience of the human family and a reasoned discussion about “living together.”

The opening disc displays all the fantastic visual treatment and narrative aplomb we’ve come to expect from Attenborough’s BBC/PBS nature specials. But this one goes even further because they’re able to use a new helicopter-mounted high-definition camera called the “heli-gimbel.” The camera is so stable and has such high resolution that it can capture close-up images from more than a kilometer away, which means the noise of the helicopter doesn’t spook the animals. Each DVD disc also contains a segment-ending “Diary” that shows the how-we-did-it for a selected visual sequence in the program.

Using the heli-gimbel in combination with a camera crew on the ground — and some lyrically aesthetic digital editing — viewers float along into a variety of individual and time-lapse sequences. Some time-lapses move, some show seasonal changes, and some show weather systems developing. You’ll marvel at seeing a great white shark flying completely out of the water in 400-times slow-motion to catch a meal of seal, or to watch an avalanche start its 250-mile-per-hour blast down a mountain. There’s also a Sound of Music moment when we see a mountain goat on a sheer cliff, and the camera/helicopter zoom out to show the small white dot at the top of the world.

Attenborough’s narration adds his usual fascinating factoids: pandas don’t hibernate; cranes must fly above the highest peaks (yes, including 29,000-foot Everest) in the Himalayas to find their nesting territory in India; while the Rocky Mountains have reached their peak and are now eroding, the Himalayas are still rising, and, as they do, they affect the climate of the entire world through swirling air currents and clouds forming there.

In the final segment, Attenborough adds the voices of scientists, conservationists, governments, skeptics, and others from all aspects of environmental issues. Asked whether they are pessimistic or optimistic about our future, one responds that movements for change are always created by optimists because pessimists don’t think anything can be done to improve our lot. Although he understands the significant challenges of saving the planet and living in balance, the word optimistic certainly describes Attenborough’s outlook.

When ordering a DVD set of Planet Earth, be aware that several options for the soundtrack exist. Versions created for the U.S. market use Sigourney Weaver or Oprah Winfrey as narrator, while the version for the rest of the world uses Attenborough’s eminently recognizable voice. Many reviewers on Amazon.com deride the U.S. narration as simplistic and flat, but you’ll have to decide for yourself. Regardless of which narrator you choose, this incredible series is something you’ll want to watch again and again.

Documentary
Producer / Narrator: David Attenborough
Theatrical release: 2007; available on DVD

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

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