Thursday, April 23, 2009

Disney's "Earth" revisits an earlier BBC series

The “DisneyNature” feature film “Earth” (Disney website for theatrical film), opening in theaters “Earth Day” on Wednesday April 22, is apparently a theatrical version of materials from an earlier BBC and Discovery Channel series “Planet Earth” already on Netflix, reviewed here on the TV blogs in July 2008.

James Eart Jones narrates the American version, and Patrick Stewart the UK version. David Attenborough had narrated some of the TV version. The “new” film is directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, and the closing credits show them manning a hot air balloon.

The film opens with a polar bear mother and cub as the sun comes up in February during an Arctic winter. “Dad” is at sea, desperately looking for food. Toward the end of the film, in the summer, where so much ice has disappeared to global warming, we see “dad” again make a last attempt to feed himself at a walrus colony before starving.

In between these, the film is filled with wonders, much of it from on high. We watch a herd of elephants go across a South African desert beset with dust devils. A mother and cub get separated. At night, they share a watering hole with lions whom, it turns out, are not trustworthy.

We see a mother and cub baleen whale journey to Antarctica to feed on krill. We see wolves chase a herd of elk in the taiga spring.

The film more or less follows the seasons, but not exactly; there are some quick time-lapse shots that show the progression of color quickly. In the Disney “True Life Adventure” documentaries of the 50s (“The Living Desert”, “The Living Prairie”, “Secrets of Life”) more attention was paid to following the day-night progression and seasonal progression carefully.

All along, we get the impression that “reproduction rules.” Survival of one’s own kind seems to be the only value. A couple of the hunting scenes show the captured animal almost relieved by the surrender. A male "bird of paradise" in the Amazon flaunts his plumage -- reminding us that in nature it is the male (or the "masculine" element) that attracts visual attention, and that female vanity seems like a human cultural invention, perhaps necessary. In a human civilization, all of these things get so much more complicated, but perhaps we can understand where predators come from.

Perhaps because of its BBC and television origins, the film is shot 1.85:1. It could have used full anamorphic.

I wonder what Disney could do with a movie covering the other planets and moons on the solar system, now that NASA has so much footage.

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