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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Sacred Planet (2004)

"Many people have never heard their voices. Now it may be time to listen."
- narrator Robert Redford, on the indigenous people featured in the film

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 05, 2005

Director: Jon Long

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 00h:46m:39s
Release Date: April 05, 2005
UPC: 786936228922
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Unless you've got a television set the size of a garage door, films shot for and originally shown in the IMAX format are going to suffer when you watch them at home. The enveloping experience is so much what IMAX is about—huge images shot with piercing clarity and projected onto giant screens. (Each frame of IMAX film has something like four times the surface area as conventional 35 mm film, making for pictures of tremendously high resolution.) So on DVD isn't the optimal way to watch Sacred Planet—then again, you're reading this on a website devoted to DVDs, and it's fair to say that not everything gets lost in translation to the small screen.

The film crew has taken some glorious images from spots in the world that are largely pristine and without evidence of industrialization: Namibia, Thailand, British Columbia and Alaska, Borneo among them. There are lots and lots of pretty pictures: herds of antelope and zebras running wild, dolphins in pristine blue water, underwater photography, fantastical orange sunsets. The filmmakers also favor helicopter shots, swooping in and just over snowcapped mountains, for instance; time-lapse photography is another favored technique, so swirls of clouds rush by, hours and hours compressed to a few frames. Robert Redford provides the narration, which is very spare; we also see the indigenous people, living lives not much different than their forebears from centuries, even millennia, ago. We hear from them, too; but this is on voice-over, and is in English, which suggests that these are American actors dubbing in the words of these people. There's something a little bit imperial at work there, but it's easy to forgive, because the recurring theme is the importance of living in harmony with nature, and how an individual can thrive only in a culture of sharing.

There are the inevitable cutaways to the worst of contemporary life, with stop-motion photography of teeming shopping malls, unbearable traffic at rush hour, felled trees as evidence of the rape of the land. The not-so-subtle suggestion is that industrialization is evil; when I've been to see things like this at IMAX theaters, it's always been in the company of my son, and the screenings have been peppered with other children, so there's certainly a sense at work here that part of the film's job is to educate (or, depending on your perspective, indoctrinate) our youth about the political agenda of the environmental movement. Still, even the most ardent slash-and-burn industrialist would have to acknowledge how beautiful so many of the pictures in this film are, and that what some of us call progress never comes without a price.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: As you might anticipate, in many respects the transfer is the best thing about this DVD. Images are crystal clear, colors are carefully modulated—it's all extraordinarily pretty to look at.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The musical scoring is a little heavy on the pan flute for my taste—paging Zamfir—and the heavily accented native narrators can occasionally be difficult to understand. Sounds fine overall, though.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cinderella, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tarzan II, America's Heart and Soul
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jon Long
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Jon Long's commentary track is largely about the challenge of shooting in the IMAX format, and on how to control the images. He's especially funny talking about the reactions of the indigenous peoples to the truckloads of equipment from Hollywood, for they seemed to be baffled by the Westerners, their stuff, and its lack of utility: "If it doesn't keep you warm, what's the point?" Long is also featured prominently in a making-of featurette (11m:18s), as is his producer and wife, Karen Fernandez; they both agree that they wanted to "let the pictures do the talking, for the most part." And you can see more of those pictures in Our Sacred Planet: Unseen Moments in Time (06m:54s), more footage from the shoot, with musical scoring; the underwater shots are especially exquisite.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Beautiful images better seen on the big screen, but not without rewards at home. Unless you're planning that trip to Namibia some time soon, this is a worthy and politically aware substitute.


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