Earth Blu-ray review – Disney presents the abridged version of Planet Earth

When BBC and Discovery Channel dropped Planet Earth in our Blu-ray players, it was a landmark title. New camera equipment heralded the first nature documentary recorded in high definition, giving a whole new, defining look at our much underrated planet.

The imagery was nothing short of breathtaking, and Planet Earth has since gone on to become the quintessential Blu-ray purchase for all newcomers to the format.

Quick to make some scratch, Disneynature (Disney’s nature documentary arm), cobbled together a 90 minute feature recycling footage from Planet Earth – dropping David Attenborough in favor of James Earl Jones.

And while it might be more approachable and easier to digest for little ones, it lacks the gravitas that has made Planet Earth a consistent best seller since its initial release.

Storytelling: 3/5

When Planet Earth originally bowed on BBC, it told the story of our planet’s ecosystem on a grand scale, breaking it down into segments on habitats and the daily struggle of its inhabitants.

Disney opts for a different direction, choosing to piece together a loose narrative, detailing the trials and tribulations of a family of polar bear, African elephants and humpback whales over the course of a year. It is certainly an attractive package for children, since Disney has chosen some of the more adorable denizens of the animal kingdom.

In between detailing the hardships each species must overcome to survive, Earth strains to enforce the Disney patented view of the “Circle of Life” (referenced in one eye rolling scene by its narrator, and star of The Lion King). There are glimpses of geography and natural beauty, but they only serve as segue to starving animals and those fleeing for life.

Like Planet Earth, Earth highlights how humanity is directly responsible for most of the struggles the animals must now endure, due to increasing climate change that threatens their fragile ecosystem. This is especially true as it relates to the polar bear, as the documentary paints a grim outlook for the future of the species.

Whereas David Attenborough gives an uplifting, but important message about humanity changing their negative impact on the environment (it’s not too late) and appreciating the natural beauty that surrounds us, James Earl Jones’ narration feels slightly more cynical.

One is left feeling, “Well, at least we have all this great HD footage for when global warming inevitably destroys all life on the planet!”

The real downfall of Earth is that almost all the segments are lifted wholesale from the far superior 12-hour BBC/Discovery documentary, with no real, noteworthy changes. And instead of an epic, sprawling look at our world, we are left with a narrow view of some of its more child-friendly inhabitants and a cynical outlook of their future.

The only real worthy additions are the outtakes in the credits, showing how the crew sacrificing life and limb to get this terrific footage – including running for dear life from angry polar bears and colliding into trees for aerial photography.

Not really worth it if you have seen Planet Earth, nor would I recommend it over the award winning documentary.

Video: 4/5

Earth recycles some of the fantastic footage from Planet Earth with mixed results.

The 1080p production was the first of its kind, filmed on a combination of 35mm and HD cameras. The crew actually manufactured new equipment for the endeavor, including a Heligimbal, a gyroscopically-stabilised HD camera housed in the underside of a helicopter and controlled by joystick from inside the cockpit.

Borrowing heavily from techniques used for major Hollywood productions, but is a considerable leap for nature documentaries.

The original Planet Earth has a pretty incredible transfer, with minimal grain, incredibly vibrant colors, sharp contrast and unparalleled clarity. Earth, however, looks quite good – in places.

There is artifacting, grain and a lack of sharpness more prevalent here than the BBC/Discovery production. There are even times when the picture looks washed out, and while a rare occurrence, still seems like a noticeable step down from the stellar Planet Earth release.

That’s not to say Earth is hideous. Some of the shots are undoubtedly gorgeous, and the recycled footage is still something of a show stopper.

Yet, much like most of the film, it’s just not as good as Planet Earth.

Audio: 5/5

Earth serves up a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track, and it is one of the few aspects that is equal to its BBC/Discovery counterpart.

Earth features lush, surround audio, as if the production crew dropped a condenser microphone into the middle of a nature preserve and output the audio straight to your speakers. The mix balances all the background audio, the focal animals and the narration with a degree of confidence not seen in most productions.

James Earl Jones’ booming narration carries a lot of weight, and does not get displaced by the billowing orchestral score or the audio mix.

Good score, good mix and great use of directional audio make this a reference track.

Package: 3/5

Earth is a two-disc set, one of which is a DVD copy, and the other a BD-50 disc. The packaging is not as nice as the hardcover slipcase from Planet Earth (par for the course), but is far from hideous.

The supplemental material is sparse, but has a few quality additions. Included are filmmaker annotations, which gives you a Picture-in-Picture insight to the development of the feature length film, reasoning behind specific footage being used, creating the narrative and information on the technical process. It’s informative, entertaining, and does not fall victim to becoming an incoherent patchwork of bonus material.

Unfortunately, that’s about it.

There is support for BonusView players, allowing users to view information and video snippets of various locales throughout the globe, and a standard “making of” featurette.

But you won’t find anything else.

While most folks buy into these documentaries for the footage more than anything else, but considering that Earth is pretty much a condensed version of a Blu-ray that’s been on the market for a couple of years, asking for more supplemental material is not out of line.

Bias:

t should be pretty obvious from this review that I’m an enormous fan of the BBC/Discovery production, and highly anticipate their next collaboration (The Frozen Planet!).

Planet Earth was actually the one showcase title that sold me on Blu-ray.

Earth, while easier to digest in one sitting than a 12-hour documentary, does a disservice to its source material by significantly limiting the scale of our much loved planet. And you’ll never be able to convince me that there’s another narrator better suited for the material than David Attenborough.

Earth is serviceable for children, families or those unwilling to purchase the costly Planet Earth four-disc set, but it only tells a fraction of the story. With a minimal amount of supplemental material and image quality that seems inconsistent at times, it’s tought to recommend.

If you haven’t seen Planet Earth, and don’t get all the hype, this condensed Disney version might be a great entry level title. The photography is incredible, and the sense of natural wonder remains intact.

For everyone else, Earth is nothing more than a trailer for the superior Planet Earth.

Verdict: 3/5 – “RENT”

 

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