(Documentary — UK – Germany)
Variety.com, by Jay Weissberg
Not one frame of CGI is used in “Earth,” a landmark achievement utilizing the latest tech advances as it follows the cute and cuddly across multiple hemispheres and seasons. A ravishing distillation of the BBC/Discovery series “Planet Earth,” docu brings to the large screen memorable images that cried out on TV for the full movie-going experience. Presales back in Berlin went global, with Lionsgate picking up Stateside fall release. Prospects should be big worldwide, though there’s always the chance that auds weaned on Animal Planet may decide there’s no need to rush to the cinemas.
One look at the number of d.p.s and it’s clear the kind of work that went into this, conceived by the same team as landmark underwater docu “Deep Blue” and helmed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. Five years in the making, 4,500 days in the field at 200 locations, 250 days of aerial photography: The statistics are more than impressive.
From the sharper than sharp satellite images of the globe to thrilling scenes of a Humpback Whale mother supporting her calf on the ocean surface, “Earth” takes in the full panoply of the planet in a determined reminder, as narrator Patrick Stewart intones, of “what we have, and what we stand to lose.”
Docu is unabashedly family-friendly: The producers steered clear of the “Savage Killers in the Wild” type of nature show, refraining from showing even a drop of blood let alone the now customary maulings on the Discovery Channel.
Even when a great white shark lunges for a seal, it swallows the animal whole — no mess here. Animals are uniformly appealing, and information very basic. While making clear the problems these creatures face thanks to global warming, docu’s careful not to sound too gloomy. Although pic is unquestionably let down by the overly bland script, the visuals more than make up for it.
“Earth” covers the seasons, and the planet, in a full year’s cycle that begins in the high Arctic in January. Stunning time-lapse photography captures the returning sun and the moment when a polar bear mother and her two cubs exit their den and work off the grogginess of hibernation.
It’s not just the proximity to these and other creatures that amazes, but docu’s ability to reverse zoom and set the scene in its larger context without losing a drop of clarity.
Aerial shots of the immense taiga forest take one’s breath away, as does the camera’s accompaniment of Demoiselle cranes in their migration across the Himalayas. North American woodlands are transformed in a few seconds from snow to emerging snowdrops to clusters of daffodils to carpets of bluebells.
Shots of Mandarin Duck chicks leaping down from their nest high in a tree play like the cutest of cartoons, while truly astonishing scenes of a six-plumed bird of paradise performing his dance are so colorful and humorous as to give the dancing hippos of “Fantasia” a run for their money.
Anyone wanting to know how all this was captured will need to watch the fuller TV series, though viewers can hardly take any of the effort for granted, no matter how easy it all appears. Definition is so crystal clear, the colors so true, that anything other than a spotless and seamless screen will be annoying — docu cries out for complete IMAX treatment.
George Fenton’s ultra-rich, majestic score is in keeping with the overall sweep, yet occasionally feels like a parody of the John Williams type of over-sumptuousness.
A Lionsgate release (in U.S./U.K./Australia) of a BBC Worldwide (U.K.)/Greenlight Media (Germany) presentation of a BBC Natural History Unit Film production. (International sales: Greenlight Media, Berlin.)
Produced by: Alix Tidmarsh, Sophokles Tasioulis
Executive producers: Andre Sikojev, Nikolaus Weil, Stefan Beiten, Mike Phillips, Wayne Garvie
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
Written by: Leslie Megahey, Fothergill, Linfield
Camera (color, 35mm, HD-to-35mm): Andrew Anderson, Doug Anderson, Doug Allan, Paul Atkins, Barrie Britton, Richard Burton, Simon Carroll, Rod Clarke, Martyn Colbeck, Justin Evans, Wade Fairley, Ted Giffords, Mike Holding, Michael Kelem, Simon King, Toshihiro Muta, Justin Maguire, Didier Noiret, Andrew Penniket, Rick Rosenthal, Adam Ravetch, Tim Shepherd, Andrew Shillabeer, Peter Scoones, Warwick Sloss, Paul Stewart, Gavin Thurston, Jeff Turner, Nick Turner, John Waters
Editor: Martin Elsbury
Music: George Fenton
Sound (Dolby Digital): Kate Hopkins, Tim Owens
Associate Producers: Melissa Caron, Amanda Hill
Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Selection), Sept. 22, 2007
Running time: 99 MIN
Narrator: Patrick Stewart