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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth

Life on planet Earth

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Disney and animals have been inseparable since Uncle Walt built an empire around animated ducks and mice. In 1948 the Disney studio expanded its scope with a series of "True Life Adventures" that brought drama and comedy to beautifully photographed, full-color travelogues of nature.

Earth, a BBC/Disney co-production, updates those old nature pictures, with the resonant voice of James Earl Jones narrating a thematically linked series of vignettes shot in the wild. Earth begins in the arctic, where a mother polar bear and her cubs surface from their den as the spring sun begins to warm the polar ice. Alas, the temperature in the arctic, warming a little each year, threatens to melt the bears' habitat from under their feet.

From there, Earth hops between continents and climate zones, and peers into the sea at the underwater ballet of whales and swordfish. At times the story lines are cute and imposed on the animal subjects; at others, the creatures unwittingly collaborate in the narrative, their images helping write the story of their quest for survival. Heartwarming scenes of a mother mallard teaching her little ducks to fly are countered by disturbing pictures of nature as a battlefield. Especially harrowing is a leopard's slow motion pursuit of the gazelle it finally brings down and kills, and a pride of lions clinging and clawing like vampires to the side of an elephant until the mighty beast is pulled down in the grainy light of night-vision cameras.

Nature imperiled by climate change is a theme sounded periodically like the minor mode in a symphony of splendor. Mostly, the screen is filled with the grandeur of migrating herds or birds by the thousands covering the horizon with their wings. Most of all, Earth is the story of our planet as a fertile miracle, positioned just so like a bright jewel in the heavens, overflowing with an unembarrassed abundance of life.