Because we have only as much cable tv as is necessary to avoid climbing on the roof to install an antenna, and for various other reasons out of the past, I end up getting a lot of television from Netflix as well as what I think of as "real movies." Quite often these tend to be things that were once shown on BBC America or just the plain old BBC, and they usually have some trailers before the main feature. That's how I found out about Planet Earth,(2007) the $25 million dollar nature series narrated by David Attenborough. Over the past couple of days I've watched the first three episodes, "From Pole to Pole," "Mountains," and "Fresh Water."
I'm ambivalent about this series. I probably will continue watching it at intervals, but I can stand to wait a while for the next disc. (Note to self: check queue and make sure it doesn't come too soon.) The photography is amazing. The producers have made use of every kind of new photographic technology, aided by many kinds of transportation from helicopter to small river boat, to show scenes that few people would ever be able to see on their own. Animal, bird and fish migration scenes were some of my favorites (and the producers', too -- there was at least one in each episode, but they were spectacular so who can blame them). They roamed the world, and I saw places I'd never even heard of before as well as familiar scenes from new perspectives. And those grizzly bear cubs were some cunnin', as were the Ethiopian baboons, the Indian otters, and the pandas, both giant and red. So what's my complaint?
First the milder one -- I'd like to see a show like this one that concentrated more on the geology, hydrology and botany and less on the zoology. Not that some of the animal scenes weren't wonderful. To my mind, it is better to see a video of a snow leopard in its natural habitat, unaware even that it's being photographed, than to see one in a zoo. And because of the new technology, there were many animals that probably hadn't been so well photographed before. Still, there have been so very many animal shows; I feel the other aspects of Planet Earth have been neglected.
But my bigger objection is to the compulsion this, and other similar films, seems to feel to show the predator stalking, catching and eating its prey, several times in each episode. After watching the first one, which featured wild African dogs catching an impala and Canadian wolves with caribou, I hoped that episodes titled "Mountains" and "Fresh Water" would not need to include such scenes, but both did. It begins to seem almost like pornography -- we know these things occur and are necessary to the balance of nature, but is it really necessary for the camera to linger so long on them? For this reason also, I'd be very careful about showing these films to kids under 13 or so, and even parents of teenagers with sensitive spirits might want to warn them before they watch. I had to close my eyes a few times.
Each episode is followed by a short piece called "Planet Earth Diaries" about the technology used and the difficulties encountered in making that episode. These were quite interesting and I recommend watching them. The BBC has more information on its website, as well.