Customer Reviews: Human Planet [Blu-ray]
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on March 19, 2011
This review is based on the UK Blu-Ray release and, so far, there seems to be no reason to believe that the US version will be any different.

If you have seen the BBC's superb previous flagship series 'Life', then I can summarize this as being the human version of that series by way of Planet Earth: A collection of exotic and sensational footage of humans, some living in various cities or villages around the world, but most of them at the fringes of civilization, all having to meet nature's challenges using ingenuity, daring and downright unusual or dangerous solutions. This includes dealings with environmental dangers, human extents to find or hunt for food in the most extreme environments, various extreme forms of human dwellings and adaptations, and the many types of relationships between humans and animals ranging from exploitative, to practical survival tactics or pest-control, the religious, the conservationist, etc. The structure of these 8 episodes is modeled after Planet Earth, with a different terrain per episode: Oceans, deserts, the Arctic, jungles, mountains, grasslands, rivers and cities.

If you have seen some of the regional documentaries by the BBC such as Wild China, Wild Africa, South Pacific, Yellowstone, etc. then you have seen this kind of footage where the local humans and their unique adaptations to their environment are featured along with the indigenous wildlife. Except that this series focuses only on the humans, and manages to find some truly amazing footage, most of it new.

Frankly, I approached this series with skepticism, seeing as the series is about people rather than the relatively more surprising and exotic behaviour of wildlife. I also had a few apprehensions about their approach, and half-expected environmental preaching and a general attitude of 'pure nature vs. evil humans'. But these concerns were allayed, and within 2 episodes I was hooked. Only the final episode ends on a thoughtful, environmentally-aware note while the rest of the series rejoices in human ingenuity and rich footage of human resourcefulness and unusual adaptations to their environments.

Some examples: Dangerous digging of a network of underground aqueducts in the Algerian deserts, building 35-meter-high tree-houses in the jungle with nothing but jungle materials and agile footing, lung-killing sulphur mining in Indonesian volcanos, a shepherd racing against elephants in Mali to reach a water-hole, Mongolian hunting using golden eagles, fishing on the edge of Victoria Falls, using falcons to keep skyscrapers clean, a dangerous long trek over thin ice in the Himalayas by children just to go to school, bedbug infestations in cities, tricky street-gangs of aggressive monkey thieves, stealing food from hungry lions, and much much more.

Which brings me to the violence. This time there is violence between humans and animals, most of it involving hunting. I can see this causing an uproar among animal lovers when this is released. But I think the BBC did a wonderful job of showing what is needed without sugar-coating or censoring reality and practical concerns often denied by animal lovers, and all this without exploiting or being gratuitous either. In addition, many of the hunts are performed by people that rely on it for basic survival, and they often involve dangerous stunts by the desperate hunters.

That said, some scenes are not appropriate for children. The gore of the hunts is often, but not always, minimized or off-camera, and there are scattered scenes such as the ritual drinking of blood from an animal in Africa, and some cataract surgery on mountain people that have gone blind from the sun, that parents would want to censor, not to mention the parental guidance needed on various daring stunts performed by carefree locals.

I found it very entertaining and illuminating to compare this release to some of the Mondos from the 70s, especially the underrated work by Antonio Climati who made a series of shocking, exploitative but justifiably observational documentaries on the relationship of humans with animals. Some scenes from Human Planet would not only fit right in with those works, they even cover some of the same footage and I would not be surprised if they used those documentaries for ideas (e.g. children hunting and eating huge spiders, sky-burials in Tibet, dangerous and bloody whale hunting by men in a small boat, the Matis hunting monkeys in Brazil, etc). Except, of course, the shock is minimized as much as possible rather than exploited, and the narrative is more inspirational rather than sarcastic.

Picture quality: I add this almost as an afterthought because the images are obviously stunning and in high-definition 1080/16:9 and you would expect nothing less from the BBC. Except that, due to the content, don't expect as many wildlife color postcards that bleed off your screen. In other words, very slightly and relatively less jaw-dropping than Life/Planet Earth, but this is still full of breathtaking scenery and cinematography of the highest quality.

Narration: Many documentaries have been weakened or ruined by a poor choice of narrator, and I was starting to think that nothing but Attenborough would do anymore, but they made a find on this one with John Hurt who lends a warm, rich and nuanced narration. Superb.

Finally, the structure: As mentioned above, each episode focuses on various extreme adaptations to a specific terrain and this gives the series a somewhat systematic framework. They thankfully got rid of the overview episode seen in previous releases and replaced it with a 10 second preview at the beginning of each episode, and they continued the trend of the ten-minute behind the scenes footage at the end of every episode which always adds some depth or human angle to the footage.

In summary, I am tempted to remove one star because the style here is more modern sensationalist entertainment-oriented footage rather than the educational and fact-filled documentaries that Attenborough made in the past. But the series is inspirational, rich, fascinating, mostly new, and very well put together, so I can't give this anything but full marks. Just keep in mind the caveats mentioned above.
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It was Mark Twain who is usually credited with originating the maxim that "the only two certainties in life are death and taxes" He was wrong since Twain never had the benefit of the wonders of the BBC Natural History Unit. Their certainty appears to be the complete inability to construct a bad series and in achieving the consistant feat of producing the most wonderful and lavish programmes which throughly inform and educate at the same time. This latest series is a variant on a theme since the "Human Planet" looks at us as a species particularly our behaviour in subsistence and fundamentally dangerous environments (with the exception of the last episode "Cities") where humans are most challenged by nature, eco systems or competition with other mammals and animals.

The Human Planet is a series packed with what television producers describe as the "gawp factor". It is beautifully filmed and the intriguing "Behind the Lens" segments to every programme show the scale of the logistical challenge for the BBC film crews and the lengths they go to for the perfect shot. The background to the technical filming of the Loatian fisherman Sam Nang in the episode River is as fascinating as Nangs own precarious shuffle on a old blue pair of flip flops across the raging torrent of the Mekong River below suspended on self strung wire. Likewise throughout the warm narration of actor John Hurt is excellent (although the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough are missed) while the dramatic music provided by Nitin Sawhney adds considerably to all the drama. But obviously the main stars are the eight programmes human subjects with massive highlights screaming out of every episode. Some of my favourites include the Algerian well diggers, the Inuit fishing for mussels under sea ice as the tide rushes back, the race against the elephants to a desert waterhole by a teenage cow herder Mamadou who battles against a huge bull elephant, the Dogon people of Mali in a huge scrum frantically fishing fish in the sacred water of Lake Antogo, the uneven match of three men against 15 hungry lions, the hugely colourful and often amusing Wodaabe men and their bird like courtship dance and most of all the brilliant episode on the Jungle including the death defying search for honey and the Papuan Korowai tribes massive feat of tree house building.

There are some faults in the series not least that the last episode "Cities" which while excellent seems slightly out of kilter with the rest of the series. It serves however as a fair warning never to eat fast food in certain parts of New York and who could not be struck by the frustrating and poignant portrayal of a poor women market trader in Jaipur and her struggle against a gang of thuggish and marauding Rhesus Macaque's. On a larger scale than this there has also been some debate and complaints about the level of animal bloodletting in the series and perhaps the warnings of this could be clearer at the start of the programmes. The hunt of sperm whale in the first episode "Oceans" may be disturbing to some viewers likewise the brutal capture and kill of a huge Greenland shark in the third episode who is fed to dogs. Yet this series serves to remind us that we are mammals that dwell in nature and not everyone has a local supermarket packed full of food nicely shrink wrapped/presented and almost divorced from any act of killing. The death of the sperm whale in particular is shown as an essential lifeline to the Indonesian villagers who take a maximum of six whales per year and battle the whale in wooden boats over an agonising eight hours. Some may argue that this doesn't make it right but it proves that for many humans their daily existence is a Darwinian challenge to survive.

For the technical amongst you the series is stunning to watch and filmed in High Definition 1080/16.9 although you need to carefully navigate the discs opening formats since you can find yourself unwittingly switching on (for me at least) a somewhat intrusive audio navigation. All in all this is a complete triumph for the BBC/Discovery Channel and even if you have seen the series on TV this Blu Ray set repays an immediate and more detailed second visit. This is a series filmed over four years and nearly a hundred locations which is destined to be weighed down and laden with awards. It is one which the BBC should be justifiably proud of since it is a fantastic television achievement and groundbreaking in scope, scale and ambition. The use of the word "essential" at this point almost seems superfluous, order it now.
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on April 27, 2011
After watching it on Discovery, there are three reasons I bought this DVD:

1. It is surprisingly raw for American TV. Normally Americans prefer to watch cute people eat dirty things, rather than watching dirty people eat cute things. Audiences complain when people living in harsh conditions kill whales to survive. Not everyone wants to be confronted with the messier, complicated reality when they can find solace in a simplified television narrative. That this show has the temerity and honesty to require a parental a advisory for "disturbing content and indigenous nudity" instantly wins a place in my heart.

2. This series presents what I believe is our best way forward with the environment. It shows an alternative to our conquer or be conquered conflict with nature. The idea that man can live as part of nature rather than as either as it's master or at its mercy is ultimately the key to our own survival. The key is not to absent ourselves from nature, but reconnect with it. Although many of the people in this series maintain ancient traditions, most are by no means primitive, living modern lifestyles combined with traditional ways.

3. Human Planet, like the actual humans of the planet, is refreshingly polyglot. Abandoned is the obnoxious convention where a person begins speaking in a different language, only to be talked over by a translator. Instead they are granted the dignity of speaking in their own voice, with translations appearing in creatively inserted subtitles. This also allows me to practice my listening skills in some obscure languages.

But now that I've got the DVDs, there are three things that really surprised me:

1. John Hurt has a lot more gravitas as a narrator than Mike Rowe, who just seems a little too smug to narrate this kind of documentary as he did in the American release.

2. There is a hilarious advertisement for BBC America narrated by John Oliver (of Daily Show fame)

3. MOST IMPORTANTLY! THERE IS A LOT MORE. Not to overshadow it's other virtues, but the reason to buy these DVDs is simply there is a lot more to see. Discovery truncated the series down to 5 episodes and a sixth rehash of clips from previous episodes. The Original, contained on these DVDs, has 8 episodes: 1. Oceans 2. Deserts 3.Arctic 4. Jungles 5. Mountains 6. Grasslands 7. Rivers 8. Cities (and 9. Extras) The Discovery condensation was not only unwarranted (what's the hurry? Did they need to finish quickly in order to have more reruns of Desert Car Kings?) but also awkward. Although the episodes on Rivers and Oceans did combine smoothly, the juxtaposition of Jungles and Grasslands was jarring and disjointed. Worst of all, they entirely omitted the final episode on Cities, which re-contextualizes the entire series as a voyeuristic museum of the primitive, rather than a nuanced articulation of the place of nature and tradition in modernity and society.

In its entirety, this forms a vital document of humanity, nature, and a possible solution to some of our greatest problems today.
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on May 12, 2012
If you like to see how various traditional societies around the world have done things in the past, and a very few still do, this series provides excellent hands on viewing. In most cases, you get just a snapshot of one particular unique aspect of a given culture, rather than a feel for the entire culture. Also, each subdivision of topics includes a behind the scenes program describing the filming techniques and difficulties, etc., involved in making the program. A few of the topics involve unusual activities or animals in modern cultures. Most, but not all of these, are found in the section on cities. My favorite section, overall, is the cultures in jungles, mostly in the Amazon, Africa, and New Guinea. Children search for the largest species of tarantula, then cook and eat it, being very careful to avoid and destroy by fire its dangerous easily dislodged body hairs.... Brazilian Matis demonstrate exceptional talent in designing their blowgun technology, then exceptional ability in locating and stalking their prey, and exceptional accuracy in hitting their target monkey, high up in the canopy.... A Papuan community demonstrates exceptional agility and ability in climbing tall trees, then constructing a tree house high enough to avoid many biting insects, evil spirits, and possible kidnappers below and to catch more breezes The higher the house, the greater the status of the builders. Sound familiar? Elsewhere, a Tibetan father guides his children 60 miles up a very treacherous partly frozen winter river, to their school. A cave serves to protect them at night from the frigid air, retaining some of the heat from their campfire... Then, Africans demonstrated how to catch fish on a speck of land at the lip of Victoria Falls, where others dare not venture ... As no guide of the topics covered came with the DVD set, I made my own guide, which I would like to reproduce here for the benefit of others. I counted 74 topics. Here goes:
1)Collecting gooseneck barnacles on dangerous sea cliffs in Spain
2)Whale hunting in Lembata, Indonesia
3)Fishermen cooperate with dolphins in Laguna, Brazil
4)Surfing giant waves in Hawaii
6)Shark calling and noosing off Papua NG
7)Compressor air-diving fishing in Palawan, Philippines
8)Bajau sea gypsies of SE Asia
9)Spear fishing while walking underwater
10)Filming compressor air-diving in Palawan

1)Trials of a desert cattle herder in Mali
2)Dogon's fishing festival
3)Tubu women camel caravan across the Sahara
4)Surviving the Gobi in winter
5)Collecting mist in the rainless Atacama Desert
6)Harvesting fossil water under the Sahara
7)Sandstorm and rain in dry Mali
8)Wodaabe courtship festival, in West Africa
9)Filming the Tubu women's Saharan journey

The Arctic
1)Greenland Inuit hunt, by dog sled, for Greenland shark
2)Canadian Inuit harvest mussels from perilous sea ice cave
3)Greenland Inuit hunt for Narwhal
4)Greenland Inuits catch auks with hand net and ferment for winter
5)Sami reindeer herders migrate their herds to winter pastures
6)Eating kiviak in Greenland
7)Polar bears of Churchill,CAN
8)Filming hunting the narwhal


The Jungle
1)Canopy hunting with blowgun by the Matis of Brazil
2)Venezuelan Piaras children hunt and eat goliath tarantulas
3)Amazonian Awa Guaja as obsessive wild pet keepers
4)Bird of Paradise hunters
5)Mt. Hagen Papuan Sing sing festival
6)Congo Bayaka make music, then collect honey high in tree
7)Burmese use of elephants in logging
8)The need to protect remaining completely traditional forest cultures
9)The Korowai of New guinea build a high tree house
10)Filming the Korowai

1)Fox hunting by Kazakhs with trained golden eagles
2)Gelada baboons threaten to eat Ethiopean crops
3)Collecting sulfur in Java volcano
4)Netting fruit bats in Papua
5)Preventing damaging avalanches in the Alps
6)Treating blinding cataracts in Nepal, induced by intense mountain sun
7)Tibetan open air funeral and corpse disposal
8)Filming the Kazakhs fox hunting

1)Dorobos steal a lion kill by intimidating the lions
2)Kalahari bushmen hunt Kudu with arrows smeared with beetle grub poison
3)Catching water snakes in Cambodia
4)Masai cooperate with honey guides that lead them to bee hives
5)Locust birds threaten grain crops in Africa
6)Mongolian horse roundup
7)Suri cattle herders of Ethiopia duel with sticks
8)Modern helicopter cattle roundup in Australia
9)Filming the Dorobos stealing a lion kill


Rivers: Friend and Foe
1)Fishing the Mekong's dangerous Khone Falls, Laos
2)Walking 100km on a frozen river in Himalayan Tibet
3)River ice dam busters of Ottawa
4)Collapsing Ganges river banks in Bangladesh
5)Farming river turtles on Rio Negro, Brazil
6)Dangerous fishing at top of Victoria Falls
7)Samburu use elephant dung to locate shallow water tables in desert
8)Shoring up mud-made buildings in ancient Djenne, Mali
9)Making a living fig river bridge in Megalaya, north India
10)Filming dangerous fishing at Khone Falls, Laos

1)Using peregrine falcons to keep Dubai pigeon-free
2)Policing elk-human interaction in Estes Park, CO
3)Monkey problems in urban India
4)Rat and cockroach control in modern cities
5)Bedbugs in modern societies
6)Pigeon droppings help make premium leather in Morocco
7)Austin, TX loves its urban bat colonies
8)Unusual pets in India
9)Future green technologies in modern cities
10)Beekeeping in NYC

I discoverd that one of my friends from Flores, Indonesia, has been to the featured whale-hunting island of Lembata. She says sometimes they use poison-tipped harpoons to help subdue the whales, but difficult to find the rare source plant. Also, in some areas they cook in ovens dug into the hot volcanic soil. Also, in the program on Inuit fishing for the large Greenland shark, it wasn't mentioned that the flesh of this shark is poisonous due to the large amount of TMA oxide, which is converted by gut bacteria into the poisonous TMA, which is mainly responsible for the odor of decaying fish. Thus, the flesh must be processed by boiling in several changes of water, drying, or by fermenting rather like shown in the program on auks, to produce Hakari, considered a delicacy. The TMA oxide is important to the sharks to help protect their enzymes and cells from the deleterious effects of high water pressure, cold water, and high urea content of their blood.
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on April 28, 2011
Unfortunately I know too many people who are cynical of society and humanity in general. They think the worst of people and apply anecdotal experiences to society in general. Many are xenophobic and think people in third world countries are stupid, ignorant, and not living valuable lives. This is the perfect film/series to show to people like this.

While I love the previous series Planet Earth and Life, Human Planet is my favorite and is just as important. It vividly expresses the human condition and the beauty and struggle of the most interesting and complex species we know of. It shows how people risk their lives on a daily basis and work extremely hard for mere subsistence or for the opportunity to learn. These people do not dwell on their sorrows nor are they unhappy. They may live rather meager lives relative to Westerners, but their lives are as happy and fulfilling, and more so than many living materialistically in our society.

This series is a cultural masterpiece and should be shown in public schools I think. It helps give people a more global perspective and helps us to stop thinking of life and society in only our American or Western realm.
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on May 4, 2011
To sum the content in as few words as possible I would say: This documentary chronicles the complex synergy between man and beast. Not only is there some amazing footage, but BBC has done a spectacular job of making this a cinematic experience worthy of anyone's plasma TV. They even go so far as to strap a camera around an eagles neck while it stops a fox in its tracks! Have you ever wondered what a rocketship might look like to a caveman? We get as close as possible to viewing that experience when a plane flys by an uncontacted tribe deep in the Brazilian jungle. Yes, as many have mentioned before me there is lots of animal hunting which may be hard to watch. Monkeys shot with blowguns, a sperm whale speared by primitive weaponry... etc. All this can emotionally drain people who are only used to ordering their meat from a counter, but what is most difficult to understand is the spiritual purity of man living off his environment and land without commercializing, profiting and interfering with its normal functions. These principles, I feel, are the documentaries greatest addition.
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on May 9, 2011
Like Planet Earth before it, Blue Planet, Wild China etc.. the cinematography can not be faulted. Always first class. I also think the choice of John Hurt as narrator is excellent, and the occasional music very well selected.

All in all 5 stars apart from my half star gripe.

Quite often I'd hear myself thinking "I've seen this before" and I had. There is obviously some re-use going on, where they BBC has re-edited previous locations shootings now biased toward the human aspect. In itself not a bad thing but I felt some amount of disappointing "I know what happens next" feelings.

A nice plus are the how it was filmed segments that highlight some of the dangers and difficulties these crews had to undertake so that a lazy bugger like me can criticize them.

I won't go into any more detail on content as a number of others already have. Certainly a welcome addition to my "Will watch more than once" shelf.
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on April 26, 2011
I've said this before the last time BBC came out with one of these - National Geographic has been shown up. Where are they? This Blu-Ray format is dying for a grand portrait of humanity and nature but it seems only the BBC is aware of this. NatGeo where are you? Who cares?

Just as before, this BBC series is full of amazing photography. I'm a daily photojournalist with a critical eye, and these folks know what they're doing. It looks fantastic on my 58" plasma. There are few better ways to kill nearly seven hours.

Just as Galapagos, Life and Planet Earth before it, Human Planet is a mosaic, a good one, but more depth would have been welcome. This is an intensely entertaining piece, but a tad shallow in the end. That's really the worst I can say. While this isn't a Sebastião Salgado level story of humanity, it's epic otherwise.
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on January 14, 2012
I am a nature documentary junky, and the BBC documentaries are the tops in the business. However, when I saw The Human Planet, I thought, "I don't want to see PEOPLE, I want to see nature." I put off watching this show because of that misguided line of thinking. Finally, I decided to give it a go. I am here to say it's the best nature documentary I've ever seen. The word that comes to mind repeatedly with every episode is "inspiring." I am truly inspired by how people have faced the struggles of existence in the harshest of environments on the planet and scratched out a living. When I see young women traveling 20 miles through endless desert to fill their water containers, young children going into the jungle to find and cook their own food, families living in a tree house 100 feet in the air, 3 defenseless men who scare off a pride of lions from their hard earned kill to steal enough meat to feed their families, and an elderly woman who is carried 10km on the back of a neighbor to have cataract surgery to restore her eyesight--I am inspired and humbled by the courage and tenacity of humans living on the edge of survival. To be sure, there will be images that will make you uncomfortable (the hunt for narwhal whales, for example). However, to sit in our warm living rooms and pass judgement on those who fight incredible odds for survival is simply arrogant. But those images are a small part of the story. Each episode is beautifully shot--the photography is INCREDIBLE--and wonderfully told.

This is the finest efforts of the BBC.
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on January 7, 2012
The picture quality is 5-star, but the sound tracks are broken in many places for the first two discs I have watched so far. The DTS-HD audio does sound terrific when it works. I checked the reviews and it looks like it is not just my problem. I have called Amazon, and I was told by the representative that he can not process the exchange until a week later (the system do not allow him to do it now).

3/16/12 Amazon sent me the new Blu-Ray DVDs a while ago, I have a chance to play them lately. still same terrible sound track. I will keep the Discs, only for the pictures.
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