Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Earth, as was noted in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, is harmless. Mostly harmless, in fact.

Based on the BBC TV Series Planet Earth, Earth swaps David Attenborough for Patrick Stewart and attempts to condense 11 60-minute television episodes into about an hour and a half of cinema. The project, an Anglo-German co-production, is apparently the most expensive documentary series ever, and, to be fair, the quality is reflected in the visuals, if not in the script.

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Earth is roughly based on the events of a year on Earth, with seasonal changes, cycles of reproduction and predation, of water and atmosphere. It's got polar bears, humpback whales, elephants, plants, and, most importantly for a nature film with a PG rating, penguins.

Its wide focus, indeed, its episodic feel come from its origins as a television series. There's simply too much going on; however, it is beautiful, and almost every sequence leaves a desire for more. The script is well delivered by Patrick Stewart, but even his classically trained voice can't leaven a textual tone somewhere between patronising and hectoring. Earth comes across like a response to criticisms of An Inconvenient Truth, and while it mentions global warming frequently its main thrust is the death of a polar bear as a result of the early absence of pack ice.

It is not the only death, though, the only actual bodies we see are in the mouths of sharks. There's an elephant about to be pulled down by lions, a wolf downing a caribou - even, thanks to slow-motion photography, the sensual embrace of a gazelle's neck by a cheetah. However, there is not a drop of blood, thanks largely to judicious editing and careful framing. There are youths whose existence is imperiled, elephants and polar bear cubs among them, but happily the young survive. Nature here is not red in tooth and claw, but is nonetheless awesome.

On a cinema screen Earth is stunning. A sequence of countless birds rising from the African plains leaves only a tiny patch of sky in the top corner. The flashes of colour, the roiling of wings and beaks and bird after bird is like vari-hued static on an old television. It is not the only awesome visual, though there is a nagging suspicion that they would be even greater if experienced in IMAX.

A wide variety of subjects benefit from time-lapse photography, from flowering forests to the Antarctic's Aurora Australis. Slow motion shows us the steps of the hunt, fleet cheetahs, sharks swallowing seals; and low light technology illustrates the advantages lions have over elephants ably.

Earth has music composed by George Fenton, who also conducted the Berlin Philharmoniker for the score. While occasionally intrusive, it is of high quality. This extends to much of the wildlife footage, which has carefully preserved ambient sounds which help produce a real sense of place.

Ultimately, Earth feels a bit like an advert, either for the causes espoused (the website is mentioned at the end), for the DVD boxed set, or, thanks to Stewart's association with science fiction, Starfleet's Tourist Board. While every segment is strong, as a whole it feels weak, if only because there is so much going on. That doesn't, however, detract from the sheer scope and effort of the endeavour, nor the usually awe-inspiring visuals. While stunning as a project, the series Planet Earth, as with most nature documentary, rewards the biggest screens and the best sound systems.

Reviewed on: 04 Dec 2007
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The planet Earth, as seen through four stories about migration.
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Director: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield

Writer: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield

Starring: Patrick Stewart

Year: 2007

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany, UK


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