Earth (US - BD RA)
Gabe re-watches 90 minutes of Planet Earth, re-edited for the little ones...
Walt Disney Studios may be the most successful exploitation film house in history. I’m not sure what AIP’s final profit margins were, but I find it hard to believe they rivalled the Mouse House. Despite spending way to Goddamn much money on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and dropping the ball in animation in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s after years of domination, Uncle Walt’s family has rebuilt itself as an opportunistic studio, making disposable, relatively cheap entertainment just like it did throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. This isn’t an insult, by the way, it’s actually quite refreshing to see a Hollywood studio not throwing unneeded money at projects. I may not like watching tween-aimed fluff like Hannah Montana and High School Musical, but the kids sure do, and they’re stimulating the hell out of the economy because of it. Before they rather ingeniously purchasing Marvel Studios Disney made some deals with BBC Worldwide and Greenlight Media and started Disneynature. The unexpected blockbuster success of March of the Penguins was the likely inspiration behind this deal.
Earth could fairly be re-titled BBC’s Dregs or Planet Earth B-Roll. Apparently Planet Earth was one of the most expensive documentaries ever made, and what better way to deal with such a cost than to resell your expensive footage to the masses in different guises. A whole lot of the stuff found in Earth was used for Planet Earth. That growing sense of déjà vu isn’t just you, you have seen this stuff before, and likely you’ll see it again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful stuff, but it’s kind of a rip-off, is it not? And that’s where the exploitation angle comes in—Disney takes a page from the Al Adamson playbook, and resells us the same stuff we already paid for when we saw it on cable, and again when we bought it on HD DVD, and again when we realized HD DVD was the wrong choice and bought it on Blu-ray. These clever bastards made more than $100 million on this deal. All they have to do now is re-dub it again with a Miley Cyrus narration in five years, and they could probably make another $100 million.
Earth scores genuine points for its utter beauty, for being educational without insulting the kid infused audience or making narrator James Earl Jones sound like an idiot (well, most of the time), and for its environmentally friendly message (though why would I expect otherwise). The film is rated G, but the filmmakers don’t water down the harsh truths too much. Rising temperatures will likely kill those polar bear cubs, and that lion will eat that baby elephant. The filmmakers glaze over the bloodiest bits, but the facts are made plenty clear when Jones drops the big bummers on us. I don’t care how much money Disney bleeds from these kids and their parents, so long as they’re giving up the right message, and I don’t care if the kids are bawling their eyes out, so long as they grow to take some responsibility.
Nature documentaries, as I’ve said before, are the default display tests at most electronics stores because they’re often quite gorgeous. This 1080p transfer is no exception to the prevalent rule, fulfilling all the assumptions that go along with the BBC studio’s work. It’s pretty incredible how much a polar bear sticks out against genuinely white snow when colours are this clean, and I almost can’t believe I’m actually able to make out the waves in a sand dune from a helicopter shot. The consistency of detail in both close-ups and wide shots is especially awe-inspiring. There is some digital grain throughout the production, more when super-slo-mo is utilized (I believe such things are still printed on the same film they were decades ago), and sometimes the brightness overtakes the frame leading to a bit of noise, but even these minor artefacts aren’t enough to quell the experience. The video quality is so intense and realistic enough that my cat just about lost his mind watching the movie. He was utterly convinced real giant animals were travelling through the living room. Colours are equally intense, pushing my particular set to its brightness limit. The lush greens are the most satisfying, but the clean blues of the sky and sea positively sedate with their beauty, and the occasional flutters of warmth pop without blooming.
Documentaries are strange in 5.1 surround if the viewer stops to think about what they’re hearing. The surround sound efforts (creaking ice shelves, chirping birds, wind) definitely immerse the viewer in the natural environment, but there’s no realistic way to prove these sounds were recorded on site. I mean, they may have been, but there aren’t 5.1 recording set-ups, are there? I mean the centred and stereo bits are likely real, but the rear channel stuff, not to mention the stuff picked up from the helicopters and balloons, or during the time lapse shots. It’s interesting to note that we have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when experiencing these films.
The best mixes find a balance between the original and added audio, and insures that the volume levels and clarity are consistent. This DTS-HD track finds this balance, and impresses with its fidelity. The most intense moment in the entire mix comes in the middle section when a pride of lions taunts a group of elephants with spine tingling growls. The growls surround the viewer, and no matter how clear one is on the false nature of the mix it’s nearly impossible not to feel a genuine sense of dread. The whale songs are another source of delightful surround mixing. During the caribou stampede, the dust storms, and the waterfall scene the LFE track tears the room up with heavy bass, and Darth Vader’s voice isn’t wasted either, coming from the direct centre without ever sounding thin or unnatural, as if he were sitting behind your screen reading his script. Apparently the original release featured Patrick Stewart narrating, while the scenes used for Planet Earth, if you recall, utilized the voice of Sigourney Weaver. The film’s music is a lovely concoction of styles, sometimes a little too on the nose, but often perfect for the scene, exuding humour, adventure, awe, and suspense.
I am unfortunately unable to watch the set’s most interesting sounding extra—the picture in picture ‘Filmmaker Annotations’, which are likely as entertaining and informative as the behind the scenes footage that rolls during the credits and during the disc’s other major extra. ‘Earth Diaries: The Making of Earth’ (42:30, SD)is a full-bodied behind the scenes featurette, that delves into some of the more interesting filming anecdotes with interviews and raw behind the scenes footage. Interesting stuff which is taken from the footage that aired with the original Planet Earth, and which negates the family unit narrative used in the film (the male polar bears were not related to the female and her cubs, and were actually different bears in every scene).
I can’t really recommend Earth to most folks despite a gorgeous Blu-ray presentation, because it really is just a recut version of the BBC’s Planet Earth (even the title is edited shorter). Folks that don’t already own Planet Earth, or who don’t have the time to watch the whole thing the next time it plays on television (I’m sure it will be on again in ten minutes), and who do have susceptible children in the house might want to get their hands on it, but the rest of us will probably want to skip it.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 1st September 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: Filmmaker Annotations, Earth Diaries
Easter Egg: No
Cast: James Earl Jones, Polar Bears, Humpback Whales, Elephants, Birds, Lions
Length: 90 minutes
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