“Planet Earth” is a five-disc DVD set produced by the BBC Corporation as a TV series, originally aired in 2006. I could not find a site that correctly listed its run time. IMDb.com said it was 60 minutes. Other sites said 550 minutes. But the DVDs we ordered from Netflix contain 14 episodes of one hour length each, which makes it 840 minutes, or 14 hours long. (Some sets available on Amazon only have four discs and 11 episodes, which would make it 660 minutes, or 11 hours long.)
The footage shot for this series is simply amazing, and includes some notable “firsts” for documentaries of its type, listed here. Because of the remote locations, technical requirements, and time required to make it, the series was extremely expensive, at over $30 million.
Not only was it filmed in high-definition, which gives it the appearance of a Hollywood feature film (as opposed to the low quality usually expected of nature documentaries), but Planet Earth’s team used a state-of-the-art extreme slow-motion camera for some of the footage.
While 840 minutes seems daunting, let me say this was entirely worth the time spent watching it. The footage is mind-blowing in places. Some of the information presented was unique as well. The series highlights the delicate balance of nature and ecology in new ways, usually letting the footage speak for itself.
1) From Pole to Pole
3) Fresh Water
6) Ice Worlds
7) Great Plains
9) Shallow Seas
10) Seasonal Forests
11) Ocean Deep
The three additional episodes we saw, which were not listed on Wikipedia or IMDb.com were:
1) Saving Species
2) Into the Wilderness
3) Living Together
Those last three episodes used some footage from the first 11 shows, but were mostly interviews with biologists, conservationists, and environmentalists, talking about a realistic outlook for the future of our planet and humanity’s interaction with other life on Earth. (There were also a couple of interviews with talking heads from the Bush Administration, likely thrown in for comedic effect.)
After airing on the BBC, the episodes were also aired on the Discovery Channel, with Attenborough’s narration replaced by Sigourney Weaver. (I almost wish I’d seen that version, as Attenborough’s narration is one of my chief complaints about this film.) The series is one of the Discovery Channel’s highest-rated of all time, and the BBC series is rated 9.8 of 10 on IMDb.com, one of the highest-rated movies or TV shows of all time.
So why did I only give it an 8 of 10?
First of all, Attenborough is British. Nothing wrong with that, except after 11 hours, it gets extremely irritating to hear an “R” added on to every word that ends in “A.” So China becomes “Chiner” and Cuba becomes “Cuber.” I know this is normal for the British, and it’s cute at first. Like I said though, this series is 14 hours long. It wears on the ears of Americans.
Also, some animal and plant species have very difficult names to pronounce, even if heard in your own language. Many of them were completely lost on me when pronounced quickly in British. I’m sure if I saw a transcript of the narration, I’d be surprised at how they were spelled.
My second complaint is the re-use of footage. Some of the episodes’ subjects naturally overlap (for instance, “Pole to Pole” and “Ice Worlds” had similar subjects at times). But if the teams spent many months in those locations, I would expect that I’d never need to see the same footage twice. Yet we did.
My third complaint is smaller, but still valid for American viewers. Don’t show me a cave and say its location is “North America.” This happened several times, as if the script writer didn’t know how large North America is, or that it’s divided into well-known, manageable subdivisions called states and provinces. Just because your country is small enough to shoot a rifle bullet from one end to the other doesn’t mean other countries are that tiny too. It doesn’t help me at all to visualize a location. Maps are readily available to the BBC, and the film teams surely knew which U.S. state they were in at the time. Just tell me “Nevada” or “Illinois” and I’ll be okay.
Overall, though, I would recommend this series of DVDs to anyone, child or adult, liberal or conservative, American or otherwise. To buy the complete set is prohibitively expensive (unless you’re the type of consumer who spends $400 on iPhones), but the discs are available for rent at many locations, and can also be checked out from many public libraries.
Note for ultra-Republicans: If you believe that mankind should obliterate all other life from the planet (except in zoos and picture books), be warned that there is some talk in the film of endangered species, climate change, and so forth, but not so much that it’ll scald your cold heart. :-)
Note for ultra-Environmentalists: The makers of the film appear to believe that humans also have a right to inhabit the planet. You might not like that part.
IMDb: Planet Earth
Wikipedia: Planet Earth
Rating: None (TV series)
Length: 840 min. (14:00)
Producer: Alastair Fothergill
Genre: nature / documentary
My Rating: 8 of 10
David Attenborough (narrator)