|Written by Noah Fleming|
|Thursday, 03 September 2009|
"Earth" covers one year in the life of a polar bear family, elephant herd and a couple of humpback whales, and somewhere in the middle the filmmakers give us a glimpse at life in the rainforest just for good measure. The biggest fault with this documentary is that it is tailored for kids so much that the segments on each of the families are too quick. The footage moves on to the next part of the world just when the footage gets interesting.
The documentary opens with a mom polar bear and her two cubs emerging from their den, struggling to get down to the water from their high mountain. There is also footage of the far arctic north, where animal inhabitation is minimal. The documentary then moves on to some footage of the rainforest and some of the exotic birds. It quickly moves to a herd of elephants struggling to make their journey to the delta for the season's only water. The last family covered is that of the humpback whale. This is truly a tremendous journey as the whales travel 4,000 miles from the Bahamas to Antarctica.
The documentary also contains brief segments on lions, cranes and miscellaneous herds in Africa. Ultimately, the conclusion of each family's segment is depressing, but with what we are doing to the environment a documentary can't very well be made to show the glowing nature of the world. While the destruction of the environment is not as prominent as in "Arctic Tale," it is still there. The message will be missed by kids, but the older audience will surely pick up on it.
The best part of this documentary is the narration by James Earl Jones. He has probably the best voice for narration. It is full and very powerful, enhancing the drama that is taking place on screen. The film also does well in making the audience feel empathetic. Each of the families struggle against nature and the power of the audio and video creates a strong emotion. The demise of the polar bear, the hunting of the gazelle, the separation of the elephants from the herd, all of them are heart-wrenching. However, as I mentioned before the footage cuts away quickly, sparing the young audience the reality of nature. So don't worry, your kids will still be protected and isolated from the real world, and that is unfortunate.
That said, the documentary is much better than "March of the Penguins" and "Arctic Tale." While there are some interesting facts given for the little kids, adults must refer to the "Planet Earth" series to really be educated.
Disney brings "Earth" to Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode and a 16:9 aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The video quality is simply breathtaking for the most part. There really is no other way to describe it. And while most viewers will only see the good, that does not excuse the problems with the video quality. But like a lot of films recently, the shortcomings in the video are more due to the original source material than the transfer. First the good. The colors are simply staggering. When coupled with perfect contrast levels the image pops off the screen. Black levels are perfectly rich and shadow delineation is visible, making this one of the most lucid video presentations in recent memory. Perhaps most impressive are the details. Establishing shots, particularly those from the helicopter are incredibly detailed. The herd of gazelles can be easily defined. What was truly amazing was the detail in the shrubbery. Leaves, grass, branches, dirt, everything has a remarkable clarity. All that being said, there are some issues with the transfer in regards to artifacting. There is plenty of grain and noise that peaks in the nighttime sequences. Removing you completely from the viewing experience is the slow-motion sequence. This sequence has the most evident vertical banding that I have ever seen on the Blu-ray format. It is very distracting, making me think that the scene should have just be cut from the film. There is also some macroblocking in the underwater sequences. It is very minor but still present. Hopefully this will be solved for next year's DisneyNature release of "Oceans." Overall this is a superb video experience.
The audio track is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. While it is competent audio track, I have heard better documentary audio. However, the narration by James Earl Jones is pitch perfect. His voice is full-bodied and very powerful. In terms of sound effects, the atmosphere's are rather empty, particularly the rainforest sequence. I was expecting there to be a lot more surround ambience, and while it was present, it was very minimal and generally dominate in the left surround channel, leaving the right surround channel feeling empty. There is virtually no LFE channel, but that is to be expected. The music score is very spacious. It sounds like it was recorded using a 5.1 microphone technique, as directionality of the instrumentation is very precise. While the music score was immersing, the lack of enveloping ambience counterbalanced that immersive feeling. A solid documentary audio track, but could be improved.
Bonus materials a limited on this Blu-ray, but there is very interesting information in what is provided. The biggest bonus feature is the Filmmaker Annotations. This is a picture-in-picture track that provides information on every aspect of the creation of this documentary. There is no fluff here. This is a terrific additional experience. The only other bonus material on the Blu-ray is "Earth Diaries," which is a making-of featurette. This featurette is also full of substantial information. While not a bonus feature per say, the disc contains what are known as organic menus. These menus allow the user to jump around different areas and view additional information. The Blu-ray package also comes with a standard DVD of the film.
"Earth" is not an in-depth documentary, but it is certainly full of some interesting facts. The narration by James Early Jones is terrific and makes the documentary powerful. Kids should be able to sit through this film with enjoyment. I recommend this disc simply due to the stunning visuals.