Nature’s various vagaries are innumerable and seemingly impossible to capture on camera. The forty camera teams behind the momentous nature documentary that is “Planet Earth” would only partly disagree. On the DVD set, several cameramen and producers confess the difficulties they encountered trying to film elusive wildlife phenomena like a snow leopard’s hunt or the mating dance of New Guinean birds of paradise – spending days and even weeks waiting for just a brief moment’s glimpse.

Jessica Boullion

As the introduction to each episode will remind you, “Planet Earth” crews compiled their breathtaking footage in two thousand locations over the course of five years. To more easily tackle the immense project of summarizing our planet’s most unbelievable intricacies, the series is divided into ten ecosystems, and the DVD box set includes these episodes on six discs, along with the pilot episode summarizing Earth “From Pole to Pole” and a previously unbroadcasted glimpse at “The Future.”

Sigourney Weaver provides the soothing and often stern narration for the documentary. Occasionally, however, her voice becomes irrelevant in the face of a ridiculous script that divulges accounts like the pressure to perform sexually that a male penguin feels during mating season and features an entire piece about the wild ass. Surely, the British version, narrated by widely renowned environmentalist and documentary maker David Attenborough, is less distracting.

Birds-eye views of thousands of migrating caribou or tens of thousands of white geese are juxtaposed with intimate glances at how a parasite causes an almost fungal species to grow out of an ant’s head. Time lapse shots provide a striking look at an Arctic day with twenty four hours of sunlight, a full year of seasonal leaf changes in a temperate deciduous forest and an elongated look at a gruesomely exciting great white shark lunging nearly ten feet out of the water to catch a seal for dinner.

The violence of courting ibex in Israel or a desperate polar bear attacking a pack of walruses for a meal quickly transitions to the adorable imagery of ducklings plummeting over fifteen feet in their first flying experience and views of the admirable dedication of a panda bear mother to only one cub at a time.

The six-disc collection is astonishing in scope and inspiring in essence. While the show is as close to flawless as a biopic on a planet can be, the DVD set is just the opposite in that it lacks what we so desperately would crave from this far-reaching project: Explanatory behind-the-scenes looks at how the program was filmed followed by a bevy of additional footage.

Sure, there’s an extra disc with speculations about the future of Earth. Unfortunately, it’s composed of British environmentalists talking a lot and saying very little that we don’t already know, as well as radical American conservationists professing theories like a woman breast-feeding her child is tantamount to her dumping a life-time’s supply of toxins into her baby’s mouth.

The few looks at the filming process we do get are brief and don’t quite satiate that desire to know how the hell they shot a swimming and apparently playful elephant calf without being trampled by its mother. Regardless, “Planet Earth’s” massive scale and poetic cohesion will not go unappreciated with any viewer.

“Planet Earth” DVD Review
Discovery Channel and BBC
Series:
5 out of 5 stars
DVD Set: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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