The Night Out: earth (2009), or Wonder In Motion

26 04 2009

Well, folks, it was my Night Out today, and I saw the new Disney documentary, earth. Well, I shouldn’t say new, because this is actually a movie from 2007. That’s right, this movie is just now reaching our shores. Why, you ask? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First and foremost, this is a British film, originally produced by the BBC. It wasn’t going to come out in America for that reason, but the newly formed Disneynature, a division of Disney, decided that it would distribute the film in the tradition of the old True Life Adventures series Walt Disney used to put together. The other reason this is just coming out is that Disney was probably giving the States just a little time to forget about the Planet Earth series that the Discovery Channel put together two years ago, because this movie is in actuality not a movie at all, but a pared-down edition of that very series. So you might have seen most, if not all, of this footage already if you watched the mini-series intently enough. Not to say that it’s a bad thing, though; the only thing better than seeing nature in high-definition is seeing it on the big screen, after all.

Narrated by Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones takes us on a journey through an entire year of our planet’s seasons, migrations, and constant shifting of equilibriums. We follow fresh water as it weaves its way through the entire world, and all the animals that have to quest for it, year after year. As the frigid places of the world lose their frost, the water trickles down from the mountains and the natural world awakens from their slumber, everyone hungry and everyone thirsty. We track the hunted, the innocents; deer and antelope, ducks and whales. We also keep an eye on the hunters, who are not bloodthirsty out of spite, but need to feed themselves as well; the cheetah, the polar bear, and the wolf are all documented in their own search for food (i.e. all those hunted animals). It is a glimpse of the circle of life that we find ourselves so far removed from in these days of man’s utter dominance, and a sobering reminder that all of the beauty in the world is at stake if we do not act in time to clean up our planet.

Using some of the most advanced camera technology available, the filmmakers capture nature’s fierce majesty with a clarity in theaters that rivals even the best-looking HDTV. It really looks terrific, and it takes in some really amazing moments with their ultra-clear slow-motion. The arc of a great white as he rises from the surface of the water and swallows a seal in one bite is absolutely breathtaking¬† when you can see every minute detail of the kill. The rapid-fire growth of flowers in the spring brings a tear to my eye as the music swells, announcing the birth of a new generation and the awakening of the old from winter’s icy grip. The BBC has outdone themselves in unlocking the simple wonder of nature and presenting it to us in an eye-popping 100 minute package.

The real miracle of nature documentaries is that they take us out of our self-absorbed existences for one moment and force us to think about the big picture. We can look at a picture of a lion all day and it becomes as sterile as wallpaper or plastic-lined furniture, but to watch in vivid detail a lion as he stalks and hunts with uncanny power and speed is to see the lion as something real, something dangerous, something to be respected. earth excels in making animals and nature very real to someone that has little concept of the harshness of being. To hear children gasp in horror as the food chain is revealed to them for perhaps the first time is somewhat jarring in today’s modern gentility, but it is something we as a species must never forget, no matter how far removed we become.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are plenty of joyful moments, as life itself still has plenty of joy to offer. Watching a group of baby ducks jumping gaily out of a tree, learning to fly by plummeting to the ground, is a definite smile-inducer (they look so happy that they’re falling!), and monkeys never fail to make for good clean G-rated comedy. My personal favorite scene featured a bird of paradise and an extremely elaborate mating ritual. The bird tidies up the forest floor around him, making everything spotless; checking and checking again for some sort of incomprehensible mistakes on nature’s part in his intricate mating design. And after he makes everything perfect, he calls for the woman and does the freakiest little dance you’ve ever seen, completely transforming himself for a moment to look as garish as possible. Humans don’t even get this elaborate most of the time! Well, most of the time…

So, all of the natural world’s cornucopia is sampled here. Not a deep look at any one section of the world, any one animal, or any one subject, but a fair view of most things in our planet Earth. James Earl Jones lent regal baritone only completes one of the most powerful nature documentaries in recent years. It was not as surprising and dazzling for me, as I had seen Planet Earth already and thus some of this wonderful footage had become familiar to me by the time I had seen this. But anyone who has never seen the Discovery Channel mini-series, and anyone who really enjoyed it will love this little refresher course on out planet’s life cycle. I definitely recommend it, and I give it 9 Darth Narrators out of 10.

Tomorrow is your lucky day, because I’m going to watch everyone’s favorite defunct technology horror movie, The Ring! See you then!

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