earthstarring James Earl Jones
written & directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Rated G.

Jones narrates this edited-to-feature-length version of BBC’s Planet Earth miniseries. The assembled footage primarily documents a year in the lives of a few animal families, polar bears, elephants, and whales, as they move across the globe. The remaining gaps are filled in with larger glimpses of climates and environments all over the planet, from waterfalls to mountaintops, and short vignettes involving such diverse creatures as birds of paradise and great white sharks.

I have not actually seen any of Planet Earth, though I’ve heard great things. On the strength of this excerpt, I would certainly be interested in seeing more. More importantly though, I suspect that, had I seen the miniseries, I would have been all the more eager to experience these images on a giant movie screen. I really have no choice but to fall back on superlatives to help me describe the breathtaking beauty captured by this amazing project. This release provides a rare opportunity to go see something very different at the local multiplex.

Although hardly necessary to hold my attention, there is something of a narrative arc to earth as the film moves in mostly southerly direction from one pole to another as the months slide by from January to December. And there is certainly no need to inject artificial moments of drama along the way. This is one movie where the “characters” are in genuine danger, and may literally not survive to the end. The polar bears have only a short window to make it out onto the ice while conditions allow them to hunt for food, and then return to solid ground before the ice has melted into the ocean. The elephants trek for weeks across a dry wasteland in search of an abundant water supply. The whales brave thousands of miles of dangerous open waters to reach their feeding grounds. Meanwhile, we also get exciting segments such as the migration of vast herds of caribou as they are stalked by packs of wolves, and a species of bird whose annual journey takes them over the tops of the Himalayas.

Perhaps my favorite element, however, was the incredible use of time-lapse photography to create some of the most impressive sequences I’ve ever seen. Some of these bits came in close on blooming flowers and the branches of trees, capturing the almost sentient movements of some beautiful plant life. More amazing still, though, were the satellite images that showed changes across enormous tracts of land, such as the change from winter into spring as the white snow retreats from the onslaught of new growth across the whole of northern Europe and Asia. There was also some spectacular use of slow-motion that allows viewers to analyze the movements of a cheetah as it closes in on its prey or prompts them to renew their resolutions to stay out of the ocean as a great white leaps completely out of the water in order to capture and devour an entire seal in a single bite.

A few segments focused on the environment itself, covering areas such as rain forests and deserts. By far the most glorious of these, though, was an incredible montage of waterfall footage that begins with a jaw-dropping, top-down shot of Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall, that gives the audience an idea of what it would look like to go over the edge. (For the curious, a series of behind-the-scenes clips plays over the end credits to give the audience some idea of how the crews were able to capture such great material.)

Finally, although I obviously don’t know what the narration of Planet Earth is like, James Earl Jones is a great choice here. Occasionally the writing tries a bit too hard to be “cute,” but on the other hand this is meant to be a film that can entertain children as well as adults, and I would certainly say that it succeeds. Audiences may also wonder at the ideological underpinnings (if any). After all, although the movie has been released in various countries around the world beginning in 2007, it has just now made its way into American theaters on “Earth Day.”

Some conservative viewers may regard isolated references to warming climate conditions and shrinking rain forests with suspicion, but I felt that these issues were handled with subtlety and restraint. Prescriptions and calls to action are avoided entirely, and the material is allowed to speak for itself; this is powerful stuff, and we hardly need to be told that we ought to try and conserve the natural and delicate beauty on display here. Furthermore, I would argue that the emphasis placed on the exceptional and precise calibration of elements which allows our planet to support life could be seen as a gentle nudge towards contemplation of the possibilities of divine design. I certainly couldn’t keep my mind from wandering there. This earth, like the one we live on, is a beautiful gift and an open invitation to come appreciate the the wonders that exist all around us. Take advantage of the opportunity.

~ by Jared on April 22, 2009.

One Response to “earth”

  1. Right. Now imagine about 10 hours of that and you will have the whole Planet Earth miniseries. Amazing stuff.


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