Posted in: Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on April 18th, 2007
Planet Earth – The Complete Series presents the original U.K. broadcast version with narration by David Attenborough, not the version airing on Discovery narrated by Sigourney Weaver.
Have you ever sat back and wondered about the sheer size and shape of our world, its diversity of habitats or the incredible variety of life we share it with? It’s hard to get your head around it all, especially when most of us are living out our existences in one tiny slice of the place, with the only the odd vacation …roadening our horizons.
That’s why Planet Earth is so astounding. A nature documentary in 11 parts, the series presents the most complete vision of our world in known history. Filmed entirely in high definition, it shows us places and living things we’ve likely never seen – in life or on screen – in ways we definitely have not experienced before. When I first heard the title, Planet Earth, I thought it promised too much. Having finally viewed the series, I know it delivers.
Immediately setting this series apart from any other is its use of aerial photography. As explained in one of the production diaries, Planet Earth is the first nature documentary to take advantage of a heli-gimbal, a powerful, gyro-stabilized camera mounted under the nose of a helicopter. The heli-gimbal enabled the crew to capture never-before-seen footage like African wild dogs hunting impala, with the aerial perspective telling the full story for the first time. Aerial footage is used throughout the series, as the heli-gimbal ventured where no land crew ever could.
The first episode serves as an introduction for the series, covering a general journey of the planet. Each subsequent episode focuses on a particular geographical region and the wildlife habitats therein. Here are a few examples:
- From Pole to Pole: the introductory episode, opening on the now-popular emperor penguins in the Antarctic, flips to polar bears in the Arctic, then progresses back down toward the Southern pole with several stops along the way. Episode highlight: a jaw-dropping, 1-second great-white shark attack on a seal – slowed down 40 times.
- Mountains: all about the world’s mountain ranges, and the species that call them home. Episode highlight: extremely rare footage of snow leopards, including a fast-paced hunt down a steep, rocky slope.
- Fresh Water: just three per cent of the world’s water is fresh, and yet all life is dependent on it. This episode follows the path of fresh water from high in the mountains, down through falls, streams and rivers out to sea or lakes, stopping to examine unique species along the way. Episode highlight: a piranha feeding frenzy reducing a sizable fish to mere skeleton in 20 seconds flat.
- Caves: these subterranean formations are found all over the world, and they’re home to a variety of fascinating species, such as the eyeless Texan cave salamander. Episode highlight: the recently discovered Lechuguilla Cave and its elaborate crystal formations.
- Ocean Deep: we’re just beginning to learn about this vast, unexplored region of our planet, and this episode shows off some of the more incredible aspects we’ve discovered thus far. Episode highlight: a school of 500 dolphins working as a team to capture dinner.
The other episodes cover Deserts, Ice Worlds, Great Plains, Jungles, Shallow Seas and Seasonal Forests. Each is a top-notch nature documentary in its own right, but together, they make an incredible series.
Accompanying this series’ astonishing visuals is narration by David Attenborough, a world-renowned naturalist who helped pioneer the nature documentary. Attenborough has presided over eight major nature series, including Blue Planet: Seas of Life and The Living Planet. He’s a tremendous narrator. With a suitable blend of expertise and passion for his subject, he presents the well-written, at times dramatic script as only he can. That his voice will be familiar to buffs of this genre is a bonus that adds an element of trust to the learning experience.
Behind the visuals and narration is composer George Fenton’s orchestral score. Fenton has a long history with BBC nature programs, including an Emmy-winning effort for Attenborough’s The Blue Planet, and he’s struck the right chord this time around as well. From the majestic main theme to the playful tune that accompanies a frolicking family group of otters, the score is just right.
Included in this 5-disc DVD set is Planet Earth: The Future, a separate, three-part companion series documenting the conservation issues surrounding some of the species and environments featured in Planet Earth. This is a great addition to the package, as while Planet Earth thankfully avoids politically charged commentary on our destruction of the planet, these are obviously issues of extreme importance. The two series make for a powerful one-two punch, first celebrating the wonders of Earth, then sobering viewers with some harsh realities.
As trite as it sounds, I must say that words can’t really describe the grandeur of Planet Earth. I’ve been amazed by this series more times than I can count, and I’m already ready to watch it all over again. Without question, Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series sets a new standard in the nature documentary genre.
So, how’s the DVD set?
Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series is presented on five discs, in 1.78:1 widescreen format. The series was expertly shot and in entirely in HD, so all it took was the right transfer to bring the goods. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we get – it looks fantastic. Planet Earth offers visuals of immeasurable natural beauty, and all I can say is if the DVDs look this good, what would it be like in high definition on Blu-ray or HD-DVD? The series releases in all three formats simultaneously, so if you missed the original HD broadcast, you can still find out.
The menus, animated and scored, are also pleasing.
The sounds of Planet Earth come by way of a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. While it doesn’t call attention to itself like the visuals, the audio is quite good. Attenborough’s narration sounds clear and lively, and the blend of score and effects brings life to all channels. I have only one small complaint: at a few moments along the way, I found the narration to be just a bit overpowered by the score. Even still, from thundering to achingly fragile, the range of this aural experience does justice to this remarkable series.
Audio is English only, but subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Planet Earth – The Complete BBC series includes approximately 110 minutes of bonus material, in the form of Planet Earth Diaries. At the close of each episode, there’s a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette focusing on one of the more remarkable aspects of the episode. It’s a nice way to gain insight on the series while you view it, rather than after the fact. The diaries also make for interesting viewing, since they provide answers to questions you’ll surely be asking while you watch, like “how on Earth did they get that footage?”
Rather than describing each diary, which would pretty much spoil some of the series’ best moments, I’ll provide one example of what you can expect. In the Planet Earth Diary for the Caves episode, we learn how the crew endured a 30-day ordeal in Borneo’s Deer Cave, filming species in a food chain that’s based on a 100-metre high mound of bat droppings. As one crew member amusingly puts it, “no one should have to spend a month living in poo.” The featurette also covers the crew’s adventure filming in Lechuguilla Cave, an extraordinarily beautiful area that may never be filmed again.
Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series is one amazing production, presented here on an excellent DVD set. And while you may find better video and audio quality on the Blu-ray or HD-DVD releases, they won’t offer you the Planet Earth: The Future, or the bonus diaries. Highly recommended.
Special Features List
- Planet Earth Diaries