Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Planet Earth

(UK, 2006)

A 5-disc series originally shown on the BBC. There are several odd things about this release. It was originally narrated by David Attenborough, then for some reason it was decided to have Sigourney Weaver do the American version. I have the greatest respect for Ms. Weaver, but David is the one with the real chops at this sort of thing. The only thing I missed was his often humorous presence, as in his ongoing explorations of Life on Earth which he intends to wrap up next year with Life in Cold Blood. Then, in a double reverse, his narration was restored to the DVD release. Somebody couldn’t make up his mind, but at least got it right in the end.

The other extremely odd thing is, this was the first series of its kind to be filmed in high definition. So it has been released in 3 versions: The regular one, a Blu-Ray version, and a HD-DVD version. (As of this writing, the dueling formats are still far from sorted out. Nobody knows which one will turn out to be the Betamax/8-track/LaserDisc, oops-I-got-a-lot-of-obsolete-stuff-on-my-shelf format.) Now, that’s not the odd part. Each of the episodes is about 50 minutes long, then ends with a 10-minute “Planet Earth Diaries,” which shows the incredible difficulties of getting some of this fantastic footage, and then there’s a 5th disc of extra material that discusses ecology, global warming, extinctions, stuff like that, all of which was deliberately kept out of the episodes themselves … and none of that is on either of the Hi-Def sets! Why not? I have no idea, but in the reviews at the IMDb this was the only thing that prevented this series from scoring a perfect 10.0. It pissed a lot of people off, as well it should. Even so, it rates a 9.8.

One more thing I have to mention is the odd way in which we saw this series. When it was released I immediately put it in my queue at Netflix, and found that for some reason, Disc One had a “very long wait” (their words) … while all the others were available right now. So we started on Disc Two, and went to the end. Then months went by. I probably should have made notes about the first ones we saw … but what the heck. Here’s a link to a description of all of them and I just won’t make individual comments. It would have made for quite a long review, and all you really need to know about these discs is this:


… unless you really hate nature documentaries, of course. Otherwise, this is the most eye-popping, gosh-wowing look at our planet I have ever seen. The producers had the biggest budget ever dedicated to something like this, and they spent years finding the perfect shot, the perfect thing to try to film that no one had ever seen.

What struck me about seeing this first disc (last night, as I’m writing this) is that this planet they are examining shows no trace of being inhabited by a large hairless primate that walks about on two legs. No trace at all. Now, you’re used to seeing documentaries focusing on the animals, they’re the stars, after all. But it begins to seem eerie—in a good way—to see these gigantic flocks, herds, swarms of animals, sometimes a million strong, with no trace of mankind. This might be how the world was before humans came on the scene, or how it might be after we’re gone. There are many, many shots from space, and none of the works of man can be seen.

Then, as sort of an antidote to all this pristine wilderness, we get the Diaries, and they are almost as good as the films themselves. Wildlife photography is a booming business, with all those Animal Planet, National Geographic, Discovery Channel hours to fill, and believe me, it is a challenging field. These people endure conditions that would be strictly banned by the Geneva Conventions. They may wait months, even years, in their blinds, for ten seconds of “money shot.” I would die of boredom in two hours. They dive into murky waters to film piranhas in a feeding frenzy, they spend weeks in caves so festering with bat guano that their health is actually endangered. Some of the things they do, and the footage they come back with, is almost impossible to believe. Hail to the wildlife photographer! Just during my lifetime they have brought to light things never imagined about this crazy planet when I was a kid. And I love every moment of it.

Disc 1: Pole to Pole; Mountains; Fresh Water
Disc 2: Caves; Deserts; Ice Worlds
Disc 3: Great Plains; Jungles; Shallow Seas
Disc 4: Seasonal Forests; Ocean Deep
Disc 5: Saving Species; Into the Wilderness; Living Together.