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Planet Earth(TV) (2006)
With an unprecedented production budget of $25 million, and from the makers of Blue Planet: Seas of Life, comes the epic story of life on Earth. Five years in production, over 2,000 days in the field, using 40 cameramen filming across 200 locations, shot entirely in high definition, this is the ultimate portrait of our planet. A stunning television experience that captures rare action, impossible locations and intimate moments with our planet's best-loved, wildest and most elusive creatures. From the highest mountains to the deepest rivers, this blockbuster series takes you on an unforgettable journey through the daily struggle for survival in Earth's most extreme habitats. Planet Earth takes you to places you have never seen before, to experience sights and sounds you may never experience anywhere else.
For more about Planet Earth and the Planet Earth Blu-ray release, see Planet Earth Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on January 22, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Narrator: David Attenborough
Director: Alastair Fothergill
» See full cast & crew
Planet Earth Blu-ray Review
Covering all continents, climates and habitats, the acclaimed nature series brings fantastic camerawork to Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, January 22, 2008
A baby elephant is separated from its mother in an arid stretch of the African plains. The baby's form, in remarkable definition and clarity, marches slowly as the camera pulls back. And back. And back. Until the elephant is just a spot in the middle of a vast, lifeless stretch of land. This spectacular feat of camerawork is just one example of the dramatic shots in BBC's remarkable nature series, Planet Earth. Using helicopter-mounted stabilization technology, the documentary's camera crew worked for five years to capture Earth's most hidden and awe-inspiring views and bring them into our living rooms. Their work culminated in this documentary, now available as a complete collection on Blu-ray. Each one-hour episode includes breathtaking scenes of landscapes, animals and naural phenomena that leave you awed and amazed.
This review covers the four-disc British BBC version of Planet Earth, narrated by Sir David Attenborough as released in the U.S. A slightly different edition of this BD set is offered in the U.K., with an additional fifth disc of supplements. To make matters more confusing, the U.S. broadcast version, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, is also available. They are easily distinguishable by looking at the back cover of the slipcase. The BBC U.K. version reviewed here is neatly produced on four BDs. With the exception of the first episode--a sampler of memorable scenes throughout the series--each episode focuses on a unique habitat removed from human reach. Disc one includes three episodes: From Pole to Pole, Mountains, and Fresh Water; disc 2 includes Caves, Deserts, and Ice Worlds; disc three features Great Plains, Jungles, and Shallow Seas; and the final BD includes Seasonal Forests and Ocean Deep. With dozens of gifted naturalist photographers combing the planet to produce this footage, it is little wonder that Planet Earth boasts remarkable scope and stunning visuals. The narrative is not quite as strong, but maintains the viewer's interest and is delivered by Attenborough who is a renown naturalist in his own right.
Those who watched the series in HD on the Discovery Channel have an incentive to watch it again, as the Blu-ray includes 90 minutes not shown in the broadcast version. While some episodes are more fascinating than others and there is variability in how informative they are, the collection is uniformly excellent in visuals and Attenborough's trademark delivery. If you like documentaries and nature, this BD set is essential. From the rarest creatures in the depths of our oceans to the largest bird migrations in our skies, Planet Earth reminds us that we have yet to discover most of the creatures and places that make the Earth unique. In doing so, it delivers important perspective on our planet and on life itself. We humans sure get wrapped up in our own pursuits and this documentary is an excellent way to step outside our familiar routines and see our planet anew.
Planet Earth Blu-ray, Video Quality
The technical merits of Planet Earth's picture are impressive. Featuring the VC-1 codec at 1080p and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the contrast, black level and definition approximate reference quality. No pixellation or digital artifacts are observed. The only reasonable criticisms have to do with dark scenes that obviously aren't resolved as clearly as daytime footage. That is to be expected, but a flaw has been observed. The dark areas show a very subtle strobing effect. For this reason, Planet Earth does not earn a perfect video rating, even though the strobing effect is almost imperceptible and not visible to most viewers.
The most notable feature of the documentary is its striking aerial footage. Many of the documentary's landscapes are best viewed from the air and so the camera crews take to the skies for bird's eye views. Nowhere is this exemplified better than in the "Mountains" episode with its rock steady footage of the Andes and Himalayas. The solid picture is stunning even compared to other documentaries like Blue Planet, which features mind-blowing views, but a noisy picture that trembles in many scenes.
So why doesn't the picture tremble in Planet Earth? After all, much of the footage comes from helicopters and cameras battered by wind, using incredible zoom magnifications sensitive to the slightest movement and vibration. The camera crews use an advanced stabilization technology called Cineflex. It involves floating the lens and a sensor inside a gyro-stabilized, immobile ball. The Cineflex bubble is impervious to movement, no matter what motion comes from the helicopter or the wind. To deliver the best possible picture, much of the documentary uses a $90,000 high-definition camera with a telephoto lens capable of 84 times magnification. But resolution and zoom strength mean little if the camera is unstable and subject to airborne vibrations, and that is why the Cineflex technology is so important. It allows us to enjoy the most dramatic views and most exotic creatures on the planet with a depth and definition that is lifelike and vivid.
Planet Earth Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The most prominent audio is the voice of David Attenborough and the somewhat shelved orchestral score. Only occasionally are the sounds of the animals captured and included in the mix. With a low-resolution audio track, one is left wondering how much better the sound definition could have been. Frankly, Attenborough's voice sounds crisp and detailed, and the strings sound warm and palpable, though not gorgeously defined. The rear channels may as well never have been used and therefore, audio is the greatest room for improvement in the development of future documentaries.
One scene in particular reveals much about the audible merits of Planet Earth, when Attenborough is filmed in a tropical rainforest during the evening in the episode entitled "Jungles". The audio engineering isn't bad, but having recently returned from treking in the Guatemalan rainforest, I realize that the documentary is incapable of resolving the complex cacaphony of creature's calls, cries, croacking, clicking, creaking, cackling, and chirping. In Guatemala, I heard the sounds of a unique species of frog that is not unlike the revving engines of cars at the Indy 500. Intermingled with all manner of insects and nocturnal creatures in an orgy of feeding and sexual activity the "live performance" is far beyond what I should expect from a documentary on Blu-ray. And yet I have heard content that comes close. Warner will need to do far better than low-resolution, Dolby Digital mixes if it expects to deliver lifelike audio that convinces audiences they're hearing the real thing. While we can't expect perfect recordings and encodings, hopefully higher aspirations are within reach, now that Warner's days of dumbing down HD content to produce both HD DVD and Blu-ray are nearing an end. Starting in May, Warner will be able to stretch out and fully utilize BD's 50 GB capacity without worrying about exceeding HD DVD's 30 GB limit. This may mean lossless PCM audio tracks.
But Planet Earth's sound quality is much better than other documentaries, like Blue Planet. The mix of the latter was all over the map, with various sounds mixed in gimmicky manner to the rear speakers when they did not belong there. Thankfully, Attenborough remains anchored in the center channel and the minimal use of surrounds is actually very tasteful for this kind of documentary. The real showcase is the picture, and that is rightfully allowed to take center stage with no distractions in the soundstage.
Planet Earth Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Although the Blu-ray version of Planet Earth includes 90 minutes not shown in the broadcast version, no supplementary or "making of" material is included. It would have been nice, but 11 hours of viewing material is enough to wade through. I'm not sure I would have been in the mood to watch bonus features beyond the excellent footage provided.
Planet Earth Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
From the deepest cave to the highest summit, across the oceans and the ice of the polar regions, into the jungles and deep underwater, Planet Earth takes you places that you will likely never go. But who needs to go, thanks to the impeccable camera work and 1080p presentation of the Blu-ray set. Obviously, what puts Planet Earth in a class of its own is the camerawork and the picture. While not the most educational documentary, it offers many new places to see and animals to meet. And Attenborough is a world-class host, with an authoritative delivery and relaxed style--the perfect guide to take you places you've never been. Very highly recommended.
Planet Earth: Other Seasons
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Planet Earth Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Deal of the Day: Planet Earth Blu-ray $37.99 - April 22, 2010
Amazon has an interesting BD-related (and Earth-Day-related) deal of the day going on. Today only, you can buy the BBC documentary series Planet Earth for only $37.99 (62% off MSRP). This offer expires today at midnight PDT, or when stock runs out. The price history ...
• New US Version of Planet Earth - July 16, 2007
The BBC release (via Warner Brothers in the US) of 'Planet Earth' has become the highest grossing high definition release since it hit store shelves earlier this year. Now, Discover Channel, who broadcasted the series in the United States, wants to get in on the ...
• Planet Earth Generates $3.2M in HD Sales - June 6, 2007
Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has revealed 'Planet Earth' has become the biggest high definition moneymaker ever. Since the title was released April 24th on both Blu-ray and HD DVD, it has generated $3.2M in sales from about 42,000 units sold. 'The Departed', ...
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