Forget Depp and Maguire. Step aside Knightley and Dunst. Here are the big beasts tipped to transfix film fans later this year.
Earth, the cinematic spin-off of the award-winning BBC television series Planet Earth, stars three families of polar bears, elephants and whales. The 90-minute film shows the extraordinary bond between mothers and their newborn as they live in diverse environments – made more hostile, the film-makers say, by global warming.
It took 130 cameramen and technicians five years to make the £8 million movie, the most expensive documentary film ever made. Filming in 62 countries, they braved some of the world’s most remote and treacherous terrain to secure footage of previously unseen aspects of the animal’s struggle for survival.
Due for release in October, producers believe it will challenge the dominance of this year’s Hollywood blockbusters including Spider-Man 3, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, featuring Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley, and easily surpass the £75 million taken at the box office by March of the Penguins, the 2005 Oscar-winning French film that is the most successful documentary to date.
Narrated by Patrick Stewart, the Shakespearan actor and star of Star Trek, the film follows the annual migration of a herd of elephants across southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, the migration of a school of whales from Tonga to Antarctica and the passage of a family of polar bears across the Arctic.
Mark Linfield, the co-director, said the three families were chosen because each faces challenges brought about global warming. The whales are the great travellers: they represent the changing state of the oceans,” he explained. “The polar bears represent the changing climate and the elephants signify the changing distribution of fresh water and growing desert.”
Alastair Fothergill, the film’s director who also worked on Planet Earth, said: “This is a last look at the planet which I know will not be there for my children. No one will ever invest this level of resources in this type of film again.”
Using helicopters mounted with high-definition cameras, it took the team two months to secure footage of the polar bears negotiating the melting ice caps on the Norwegian island of Kong karls Land, home to the world’s largest concentration of polar bears and closed to the public for 25 years. In one striking scene, a mother is seen emerging from the natal den, her newborn cubs following her. Later, the family’s increasingly desperate hunt for seal cubs, their main source of food, as the ice melts around them is caught on film.
Linfield said: “The emerging polar bears face many risks, the most notable being starvation. They make short hops between patches of thick ice in search of food. Now, with the ice melting, those journeys are becoming longer, far outreaching what a polar bear is used to. “We captured a male polar bear swimming away from sight of land or ice, desperately looking for an island to land and rest on.”
Thousands of miles south in Botswana, the plight of the family of elephants is no less desperate. Followed for 10 days as they searched for fresh water, a disoriented calf was filmed forlornly looking for its mother after a sandstorm. Describing how the crew were powerless to help, Mr Linfield said: “Capturing the little elephant lost in the desert was the most poignant moment for me.
Off the African Coast, a school of whales makes its exhausting 2,500-mile journey north to feed, forcing both mother and calf to the limit of endurance. In one remarkable sequence, the mother pushes its exhausted offspring out of the water to enable it to breathe. In another, as heavy seas threaten to engulf the young male, the mother slaps her fin on the water, so that the calf can keep track of her.
Like all the best films, earth, funded by BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm, has some fine performances by its co-stars. They include remarkable super-slow motion footage of a cheetah running down a gazelle and images of extinction-threatened Amur leopards roaming wild in Siberia. “there were 46 when we were filming,” Mr Linfield said. “A new survey by the New Scientist states there are only between 27 and 35 left. As there need to be at least 100 to stave off extinction, we found ourselves looking at an extinct species.”
There are plans to preview earth with a 50-minute behind-the-scenes documentary. Sir David Attenborough, who narrated Planet Earth, which has been sold to 130 countries, welcomed the film. “Anything that encourages people to learn about wildlife is a good thing,” he said. “I think it is a subject that can work really well on the big screen.”