The BBC’s Planet Earth series is nothing less than pure eco-porn: a stunning and gorgeous look at the world’s great ecosystems using some of the most incredible footage ever put to film. That in and of itself justifies a purchase, but the Blu-ray transfer makes the new edition an absolute must-own. No Hollywood production can match the beauty it depicts and even people who don’t care for nature documentaries may find themselves seduced by it. Hit the jump for my full review of the six-disc Planet Earth: Special Edition on Blu-ray.
The BBC’s Natural History division undertook the massive project, which lasted four years and became the most expensive documentary series the station ever made. Among their other innovations, they were one of the first productions to take HD cameras into the field, with aerial photography assisted by a Cineflex mount. Its scope was nearly comprehensive — covering every environment on the planet — and in in the midst of filming, it captured events never before seen in documentary films. Piranhas feed in an Amazon River with the camera placed in the middle of them, for example, and aerial shots of such remote places as the summit of Mount Everest are rendered in stunning High Def.
The content is as diverse and varied as one could ask for, from the veldt of Africa to the Arctic pole. The sheer variety on display ensure that the series never wears out its welcome, and it’s surprising how quickly one gets wrapped up in the narratives on display. A sequence with a polar bear searching madly for food, for instance, has the air of brutal tragedy to it – pointing the finger at melting icecaps without appearing unduly preachy – while the section on mating birds of paradise contains the right mixture of cheekiness and enlightenment. Sharp editing and voice-over narration from Richard Attenborough encapsulate brief vignettes for each episode: developed thoroughly but still moving briskly from one subject to the other. Eleven episodes encompass the series, and they all adhere to the highest standards of quality. A few moments are understandably harsh – law of the jungle and all that – but most make ideal viewing for families, nature lovers and stoners in need of something to seriously blow their minds.
The main show was included on the original Blu-ray released in 2007. The new Blu-ray includes everything on that disc, and two more discs containing four more episodes’ worth of material plus a call to action against the encroaching destruction of the environment (no less worthy for being very predictable). The new material doesn’t quite justify the $80 price tag for those who own the 2007 Blu-ray version, but it does make a used or bargain purchase (Say $30 well worth the extra investment). Planet Earth fully justifies all of the hype about it; even those who don’t care for nature shows may want to add it to their list. I guarantee you’ll never need to buy another one.