As of its release in early 2007, Planet Earth
is quite simply the greatest nature/wildlife series ever produced. Following the similarly monumental achievement of The Blue Planet: Seas of Life
, this astonishing 11-part BBC series is brilliantly narrated by Sir David Attenborough and sensibly organized so that each 50-minute episode covers a specific geographical region and/or wildlife habitat (mountains, caves, deserts, shallow seas, seasonal forests, etc.) until the entire planet has been magnificently represented by the most astonishing sights and sounds you'll ever experience from the comforts of home. The premiere episode, "From Pole to Pole," serves as a primer for things to come, placing the entire series in proper context and giving a general overview of what to expect from each individual episode. Without being overtly political, the series maintains a consistent and subtle emphasis on the urgent need for ongoing conservation, best illustrated by the plight of polar bears whose very behavior is changing (to accommodate life-threatening changes in their fast-melting habitat) in the wake of global warming--a phenomenon that this series appropriately presents as scientific fact. With this harsh reality as subtext, the series proceeds to accentuate the positive, delivering a seemingly endless variety of natural wonders, from the spectacular mating displays of New Guinea's various birds of paradise to a rare encounter with Siberia's nearly-extinct Amur Leopards, of which only 30 remain in the wild.
That's just a hint of the marvels on display. Accompanied by majestic orchestral scores by George Fenton, every episode is packed with images so beautiful or so forcefully impressive (and so perfectly photographed by the BBC's tenacious high-definition camera crews) that you'll be rendered speechless by the splendor of it all. You'll see a seal struggling to out-maneuver a Great White Shark; swimming macaques in the Ganges delta; massive flocks of snow geese numbering in the hundreds of thousands; an awesome night-vision sequence of lions attacking an elephant; the Colugo (or "flying lemur"--not really a lemur!) of the Philippines; a hunting alliance of fish and snakes on Indonesia's magnificent coral reef; the bioluminescent "vampire squid" of the deep oceans... these are just a few of countless highlights, masterfully filmed from every conceivable angle, with frequent use of super-slow-motion and amazing motion-controlled time-lapse cinematography, and narrated by Attenborough with his trademark combination of observational wit and informative authority. The result is a hugely entertaining series that doesn't flinch from the predatory realities of nature (death is a constant presence, without being off-putting), and each episode ends with 10-minute "Planet Earth Diaries" (exclusive to this DVD set) that cover a specific aspect of production, like "Diving with Pirahnas" or "Into the Abyss" (the latter showing the rigors of filming the planet's most spectacular caves, including the last filming ever officially permitted in the "Chandelier Ballroom," a crystal-encrusted cavern found over a mile deep in New Mexico's treacherous Lechuguilla, the deepest cave in the continental United States.)
With so many of Earth's natural wonders on display, it's only fitting that the final DVD in this five-disc set is devoted to Planet Earth: The Future, a separate three-part series in which a global array of experts is assembled to discuss issues of conservation, protection of delicate ecosystems, and the socio-economic benefits of understanding nature as a commodity that returns trillions of dollars in value at no cost to Earth's human population. At a time when the multiple threats of global warming should be obvious to all, let's give Sir David the last word, from the closing of Planet Earth's final episode: "We can now destroy or we can cherish--the choice is ours." --Jeff Shannon
Stills from Planet Earth (click for larger image)