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Earth Review

Once again a nature documentary has shot itself in the foot by boasting breathtaking footage only to ruin it with poorly conceived narration. But unlike Arctic Tale, Paramount isn’t to blame for this spoilage, this time Disneynature has fouled up its spectacular filmmaking with a narration script that even James Earl Jones couldn’t save. So what gives Earth that sparkling value which makes it worth the purchase? The footage. The outstanding high caliber shots of nature at its best and worst.

In terms of making a modern day high-definition documentary on wildlife, everyone else is playing catch up to BBC’s Planet Earth series. There’s even a good chance that Disneynature’s title was intended to piggyback on the success of the prolific British series. While that aspect of the production is deplorable, Earth does stand on its own two feet. Watching a cheetah chase down its prey with such a perfect angle is an experience unto itself. That Earth was able to catch it on film and with such clarity and continuity speaks volumes of the production Disney put together for this outing. The tracking shots over the sweeping prairies and deserts makes you feel small. It’s one of those moments where you realize your insignificance. Surrender to the power of the grand spectacles of geology.

Or maybe you’d prefer a more aquatic-based feature?

Disneynature’s Earth has that too. While starting with mind blowing footage of huge schools dodging the advances of hungry sailfish, it quickly moves on to cover the more typical creatures like sea lions, walruses and whales. Again, the scope and presentation of the footage in hi-def makes Earth a worthwhile experience. Humpback whales care for their young while great white sharks make incredible lunges towards the surface from the murky ocean depths. The two pieces are grossly different in their tone, and yet you can’t help but be awestruck by both. One moment you’ll find comfort in the whales nursing each other in the soothing blue tones of the deep and the next you find yourself gaping in horrific respect at a great white ensnaring a sea lion in its prickly maw and then launching itself more than six feet clear of the ocean’s surface. And it just goes to reinforce the basic theme of all nature documentaries: we may feel detached from the natural food chain, but it still exists.

Jumping back to the mainland, the camera tracks a daring march across the African deadlands by a family of elephants. Water becomes a rare and coveted commodity and only the strongest members of the family will survive the trek. But even when the elephants reach a watering hole in the harsh landscape they find themselves at the mercy of many predators who have use the location as a source of water and food.

The animals may provide the documentary’s action, but they’re by no means the film’s central character. As the name might suggest, the planet and all its varied climates and environs are the true focus of this production. While the animals interact, the true force driving their behavior is the seasons caused by earth’s powerful 23.5 degree tilt towards the sun.

The picture on display in Earth’s Blu-ray presentation is among some of the best out there. Nature shots always give high-definition a good run for its money and luckily Disney seems to have spared no expense on this visually rich experience. With that said, it’s unfortunate, but there’s more to Earth than just the video – there’s an awful narration track by James Earl Jaones. It’s not his fault, the script just calls for him to say ridiculously stupid things. I’m not sure if this would have helped, but I’m kind of curious to hear what Patrick Stewart’s version of the narration sounded like (which was recorded for the British release). It may help children sit still longer, but it ruins this disc’s chances to be one of the best entries in your Blu-ray library. I’d almost recommend muting the audio and putting on some Enya.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Besides a DVD copy included with the Blu-ray disc, there are only two special features to speak of. One is a commentary track of sorts and really doesn’t help the bad audio situation that started with Jones’ narration. The second item, however, more than qualifies as a great extra. The 42 minute “making of” featurette has narration that ironically bests that which is used in the actual film and is quite interesting to watch. All of the great footage that wasn’t able to edit out the human presence finds its way into the featurette making for some equally high-quality visual experiences – and this time it’s not ruined by the audio.

 

"Earth" is on sale September 1, 2009 and is rated G. Documentary. Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield. Written by Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield. Starring James Earl Jones.

Sep
02
2009
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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