If there’s one sure sign of a production’s visual quality, it’s the words ‘BBC Natural History Unit’. The kings of the nature documentary, they go wherever they have to and wait as long as it takes to get shots of animals frolicking about. Earth is the unit’s second foray into feature-length documentaries, and the companion piece to David Attenborough’s Planet Earth.
As expected, the cinematography is stunning. Shot entirely in hi-definition, even on a standard TV everything looks crisp and sharp. The DVD features a making-of doc showing the lengths the film crew will go to, and it pays off in Earth.
There are genuinely awe-inspiring moments throughout. These range from the cute sight of two polar bears hopping across sheet ice, to the harrowing vision of an elephant being attacked by a pack of lions, via some hilarious footage of tropical birds performing mating dances. The animals are the stars of the show, and it’s a role they play well.
The problems start when the humans get involved. Earth has the ambitious goal of depicting a year on the planet in 90 minutes. To do this the film focuses on the more popular members of the Animal Kingdom – your polar bears, elephants, birds with mad feathers and so on. This means you don’t really get a great deal of new information.
The film wanders away from its narrative on a number of occasions, and there isn’t really enough room to develop any great understanding of the animals. There’s also lots of breathtaking, but time-consuming, establishing shots that there really isn’t the time for in such a short film. And while Patrick Stewart’s narration is decent, it lacks the sense of authority that David Attenborough brings to the table.