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That's just a hint of the marvels on display. Accompanied by majestic orchestral scores by George Fenton, every episode is packed with images so beautiful or so forcefully impressive (and so perfectly photographed by the BBC's tenacious high-definition camera crews) that you'll be rendered speechless by the splendor of it all. You'll see a seal struggling to out-maneuver a Great White Shark; swimming macaques in the Ganges delta; massive flocks of snow geese numbering in the hundreds of thousands; an awesome night-vision sequence of lions attacking an elephant; the Colugo (or "flying lemur"--not really a lemur!) of the Philippines; a hunting alliance of fish and snakes on Indonesia's magnificent coral reef; the bioluminescent "vampire squid" of the deep oceans... these are just a few of countless highlights, masterfully filmed from every conceivable angle, with frequent use of super-slow-motion and amazing motion-controlled time-lapse cinematography, and narrated by Attenborough with his trademark combination of observational wit and informative authority. The result is a hugely entertaining series that doesn't flinch from the predatory realities of nature (death is a constant presence, without being off-putting), and each episode ends with 10-minute "Planet Earth Diaries" (exclusive to this DVD set) that cover a specific aspect of production, like "Diving with Pirahnas" or "Into the Abyss" (the latter showing the rigors of filming the planet's most spectacular caves, including the last filming ever officially permitted in the "Chandelier Ballroom," a crystal-encrusted cavern found over a mile deep in New Mexico's treacherous Lechuguilla, the deepest cave in the continental United States.)
With so many of Earth's natural wonders on display, it's only fitting that the final DVD in this five-disc set is devoted to Planet Earth: The Future, a separate three-part series in which a global array of experts is assembled to discuss issues of conservation, protection of delicate ecosystems, and the socio-economic benefits of understanding nature as a commodity that returns trillions of dollars in value at no cost to Earth's human population. At a time when the multiple threats of global warming should be obvious to all, let's give Sir David the last word, from the closing of Planet Earth's final episode: "We can now destroy or we can cherish--the choice is ours." --Jeff Shannon
This enthralling BBC series examines "the lengths living beings go to to stay alive," in the words of Sir David Attenborough (Oprah Winfrey narrates the Discovery Channel version). Aided by breathtaking high-definition cinematography, the makers of Planet Earth explore the more colorful strategies the world's creatures employ to procreate, evade predators, and obtain nourishment. Cameras travel though the air, under the water, and right into the faces of insects, like the alien visage of the stalk-eyed fly. Except for "Challenges of Life" and "Hunters and Hunted," each episode covers a different category, such as mammals and birds. Among the more memorable images: three cheetahs move with the relentless rhythm of mobsters, a school of flying fish glides through the air with the grace of ballerinas, and a Jesus Christ lizard skips across the water, like, well, you know. The strangest sights range from a pebble toad bouncing away from a spider like a rubber ball and brown-tufted capuchin monkeys pounding palm nuts with stone tools like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Witty writing and skillful editing, which distills thousands of hours of footage, make the learning go down easy (at one point, Sir David references Jurassic Park, which featured his brother, Richard).
If the sound effects seem overamped, George Fenton's score is always on the money, adding humor and suspense at crucial moments (martial drums for the mud skippers, woozy brass for the Darwin's beetle). Nonetheless, delicate sensibilities may find some sequences disturbing, as when Komodo dragons feed on a water buffalo or when a leopard seal dines on a penguin (according to Attenborough, the Komodo siege caused the camera operators "emotional turmoil"). More often, the filmmakers capture the moment of impact before moving on. The set comes complete with 10 featurettes on the four-year production. --Kathleen C. Fennessy