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BBC Home Video presents
Planet Earth: The Complete Series (2007)

"A hundred years ago, there were one-and-a-half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses, and show the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen it before."
- David Attenborough

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: April 23, 2007

Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (occasional scenes of nature-related life and death)
Run Time: 10h:43m:27s
Release Date: April 24, 2007
UPC: 794051293824
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A+A A+

DVD Review

Like many, I found myself hypnotized during the broadcast airings of Planet Earth, the BBC-produced series that has leapfrogged the simple definition of "nature show" by light years. The 11-part series (each episode runs just under an hour) is a visual stunner, an intelligent travelogue of our planet and the mass of forms and life forms that share it, made even more remarkable by the camera work, which captures things few have ever seen, and in ways that will leave you breathless.

I often refer to nature programs as "laundry shows," the kind you let run in the background while you do other things, listening casually and looking up when it sounds like something important is happening. Not so with Planet Earth, which unfurls with the striking cinematography of a big-budget feature film and a majestically stirring score from Oscar-nominated composer George Fenton (Gandhi, The Fisher King, Dangerous Liaisons). It is clear from the opening moments of the first episode, From Pole to Pole, looking at the harsh existence of the male Emperor penguin in a brutal Antarctic winter that this is not just another nature program.

From Pole to Pole serves as an introduction of sorts, moving from top to bottom to lay the groundwork for what's to come, as each subsequent installment looks at a specific area of the planet—Mountains, Fresh Water, Caves, Deserts, Ice Worlds, Great Plains, Jungles, Shallow Seas, Seasonal Forests, Ocean Deep. As the series progresses, the locales include the distant corners of Earth and all places in-between, reminding us of both the familiar (bears feeding in shallow streams) and the alien (the truly bizarre Bird of Paradise mating rituals), as cameras move from the highest points to the absolute lowest.

It should also be noted that during its American broadcast the original David Attenborough narration was replaced with Sigourney Weaver's, much to the chagrin of viewers. The good news for purists is that this DVD set does contain Attenborough's narration, and having the renowned naturalist handle the voiceover gives this a refined dignity that delicately sidesteps sounding too dry. The narrative content is simple when it needs to be, and yet is still able to convey dramatic importance with a "less is more" approach.

One of the series' visual signatures is the sweeping overheard shot, whether over massive herds of wildebeests or flocks of birds in movement. These scenes are breathtaking, not just in their scope, but in the dramatic events taking place. A hungry wolf pack tracking and hunting a herd of caribou ends as we know it must (the "circle of life" thing), but as the cameras track the final desperate chase between a separated calf and a lone wolf, it is difficult to not want the hunted to escape the hunter. This sentiment recurs throughout the breadth of Planet Earth, but the fact is, the hunter needs to eat, while the hunted ultimately serves as a necessary spoke in a much, much bigger wheel.

There are the wonderfully "cute" moments in abundance here (the otters in Fresh Water seem like they're having nothing but fun), but this series does not pull any punches when it comes to starkly displaying the ugly as well. Night footage of a multi-lion attack on an a lone elephant (The Great Plains) seems devastatingly cruel to watch (to say nothing of seeming to take forever), but when it's done we're informed it will feed the pride for a week, so it seems to justify the natural yin and yang. Predators do share the bill equally, with eagles, piranhas, bears, and sharks doing what they do best, so be forewarned that some youngsters and other sensitive viewers may not quite appreciate seeing such graphic realities. For all the natural beauty on display here, it is far from Disney-fied.

Each episode ends with a ten-minute segment entitled Planet Earth Diaries, showing how the film crews shot the jawdropping footage for that particular ep. These behind-the-scenes peeks are admittedly a bit short, but seeing the inventive technology used to obtain some of the amazing footage is a testament to this series' technical prowess. While watching, I couldn't count the times I wondered how certain sections could possibly have been shot, and having these mini diaries end each ep is very nice touch.

I can easily imagine a copy of Planet Earth being put in a time capsule somewhere, so that future generations (or perhaps even interplanetary visitors) will be able to see the once regal natural majesty of Earth, because it is apparent that there is a fragility to the vast wilderness, and that its permanence is not a guarantee. And when it's gone, it's gone. For the rest of us living here now, it's a defining journey to witness places and creatures most will never see, and certainly not in such a grand manner as this.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: All 11 episodes and the supplemental Planet Earth: The Future doc are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. While this is also being released in separate HD and Blu-Ray editions, this standard def version is pretty damn impressive in its own right. The transfers are immaculate, with colors appearing bright and rich, with sharp, well-defined edges. The level of detail and clarity is exceptional throughout, and I really can't imagine how this could possibly look any stronger, though I'm sure the HD/Blu-Ray versions will certainly prove me wrong.

Beautiful.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Only one audio choice, and it's an active Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. For what is essentially a nature series (albeit what I consider the definitive highwater mark for the genre), the presentation is aggressive in its use of all channels. Attenborough's narration is clear, while directional movements give a very spacious feel. Herds move across the front channels, and distant African thunder rumbles with an ominous richness, but the best part is the way George Fenton's score sounds so dramatically full-bodied, with the goosebump intensity of a feature film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 66 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Blue Planet: Seas Of Life, BBC America promo
3 Documentaries
Packaging: Four-fold case
Picture Disc
5 Discs
5-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This five-disc set is housed inside a slipcase that contains a fold-out case, with each disc in its own separate panel. The panel art matches the disc label, and when the disc is removed brief episode summaries are revealed beneath. Each episode is cut into six chapters. Disc 1 contains two promos, one for The Blue Planet: Seas of Life collection and the other a generic BBC America spot.

The rest of the supplemental material appears on Disc 5 with the three part Planet Earth: The Future (02m:56m:25s). Personally, I consider this an integral part of the entire series, but the back cover has it bundled under bonus features, so there. Spanning the globe, the three segments—Saving Species (58m:46s), Into the Wilderness (58m:47s), and Living Together (58m:51s)—look at the critical issues of conservation, extinction, and what lies ahead. Some of the nature-related footage is recycled from the main series, but the docs are augmented by interviews with a number of leading researchers, activists, and other knowledgeable types. Planet Earth: The Future thankfully avoids top-heavy preaching about our evil human ways, and when the question "What, if anything, does the wilderness actually do for us?" is asked, it is answered with intelligence and honesty.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

A collection like this transcends the entire DVD format, residing alone atop some high pillar of importance as an unnervingly magnificent, permanent document of the planet on which we live, and more importantly, the creatures that live here with us. This is a one-of-a-kind viewing experience—sometimes beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking—assembled with elaborate production values that can make the smallest detail appear larger-than-life or vast wilderness panoramas seem unending.

Consider this an essential addition to your library. Highly recommended.

 


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