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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Nature > Mini-Series > British > Planet Earth (BBC/Mini-Series/Blu-ray/HD-DVD/DVD-Video)

Planet Earth (BBC/Mini-Series/Blu-ray/HD-DVD/DVD-Video)


Picture: B+/B+/C+     Sound: B-     Extras: D     Episodes: B+



Though they also comprised many a feature film on their own, nature documentaries and animation were popular theatrical short subjects from the silent era onward.  As TV cut into the film business in the 1950s, both became immediately as popular on the little screen as they had on the big one.  Jacques Cousteau’s films and Marlin Perkin’s Wild Kingdom were huge hit, public TV had such material as a mainstay and even a few cable networks built themselves around such programming.  Now, the BBC has come up with the David Attenborough-narrated Planet Earth (2006) and it is a hit that is a throwback to all those classics.


For decades, all the way to large frame film formats like 70mm (see Baraka and Chronos elsewhere on this site) and IMAX, nature has been a popular subject for filmmaking and microphotography was yet another breakthrough.  When the first analog High Definition shooting was possible, it was one of the first subjects yet again and as HD went digital, more specials and archival clips were being shot in HD.  The BBC is known for top rate productions and spent millions here on this spectacular 12-part program everyone will want to see.


The episodes are:


1)     From Pole to Pole

2)     Mountains

3)     Fresh Water

4)     Caves

5)     Deserts

6)     Ice Worlds

7)     Great Plains

8)     Jungles

9)     Shallow Seas

10)  Seasonal Forests

11)  Ocean Deep

12)  The Future



The program was shot in 1080i HD and some 576i (not unlike the way the original Avengers series from the 1960s was remastered) and is presented in 1.78 X 1 on all three formats released in 1080i except for the 480 of the anamorphically enhanced standard DVD.  There are the shots that looks soft and substandard, especially on the DVD where they look soft, then there are those shots that shine and this is particularly true in scenes where it would be hard to get light in (darkness or underwater) and since HD is an electronic medium like its PAL/SECAM/NTSC predecessor, it can sometimes be like night vision without trying in capturing the illumination of light.  Though it is not as clean, sharp or clear as the best film and has Video Red limits, the HD (like the various color formats past films on the subject were processed in) gives us yet another view at a nature so rich that it is difficult to capture in any format.


Best of all, this never looks phony or like a nighttime shot on the evening news.  Every bit as much as any other HD of outdoor shots (and even more than the enjoyable HDScape Antarctica disc we covered on HD-DVD elsewhere on this site, the kind this series might have learned something from), the shooting here is often meticulous and that alone is the reason why the box sets in both HD formats are doing as well as those for The Matrix Trilogy and initial TV series offerings in the new formats.


Then there is the sound, which is Dolby Digital 5.1 in all cases, with the “Plus” dubbing missing on the HD-DVD.  The sound is pretty good in all cases, but do not differ much.  The sound effects on location are decent, while the score by Sam Watts and George Fenton a throwback to the earlier shows noted above with their “Mickey Mousing” of the conflicts of the various animals throughout.  I wish there was DTS in all cases, maybe even PCM, DTS-MA or Dolby TrueHD, but this is more than sufficient for this series just the same with healthy enough surrounds throughout and Attenborough’s commentary is very well-recorded.   There are no extras, though having Sigourney Weaver’s version of narration as an alternate (with all due respect to Mr. Attenborough) would have been nice.


Overall, this is now one of the hot HD titles and is also hot on standard DVD, so know that in any format, Planet Earth delivers and is highly recommended.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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