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Thinking of going HD? If you're tempted to succumb to cheaper price-tags that adorn the dully lit 720p televisions as opposed to 1080p offerings-- which boast the same resolution as Blu-ray-- you should read on. For after just a few minutes of watching Earth, the inaugural release of Walt Disney's new label DisneyNature, you will have changed your mind completely.
For the DVD format, The Matrix was credited as the film that launched the digital revolution since in the early days of DVD over 80% of households possessed the title and indeed, it's the first film I saw on disc. Yet ten years later when it comes to Blu-ray and HD, for sheer jaw-dropping beauty, Earth is the movie that will validate your decision each and every time your credit card statement arrives.
While it's not a traditional cinematic masterpiece from a critical point of view since it's an abridged roughly 90 minute version of BBC's award-winning miniseries Planet Earth, this title marks the first time audiences have ever seen an aerial view of Mount Everest. To achieve this extraordinary feat, the BBC/DisneyNature/Discovery Channel production was granted "unique access to a Nepalese Army spy plane" to produce footage from that altitude.
And because it is derived from previously televised source material, I'm unsure if Earth would qualify for a cinematography Oscar nomination. However it's arguably the most breathtaking work of the year from a sensory standpoint. More than just a documentary, Earth is a film to which you could meditate without the sound due to the gorgeous craftsmanship involved in the endless pans and unique edits to illustrate the way that the seasons change and animals grow.
In anticipation of its release, Earth was filmed completely with high-definition cameras which makes Blu-ray the ultimate way to appreciate not just the film's scope but also the tireless and daring result of, as Variety cited nearly thirty cinematographers. The group who risked their lives for more than four thousand intense days of photography took part in "the biggest documentary production ever" with a budget that's upwards of forty million dollars. And to the their professional credit, everything is captured onscreen without the use of computer graphics.
Granted when I started the film, I feared I was going to have to eject the Blu-ray in favor for the combo package's DVD since the Blu's menu was so difficult to navigate that I suffered three false starts while attempting to watch the movie without the picture in picture filmmaker commentary. Still, once I managed to get it playing, from the technical side alone, this Disney release has surpassed the other front-runners of must-owns for high definition junkies so far in '09 including several produced by the same studio.
However, I must confess that as much as I love the idea of nature, I'm not someone who could ever be mistaken for outdoorsy or a nature girl since I was quite possibly the only audience member to nearly fall asleep out of sheer boredom at the overly long March of the Penguins despite my admiration for it again as a beautiful work of art. Despite this I loved Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World even though its focus was on eccentrics more than history and I enjoyed Arctic Tale aside from the narration written for Queen Latifah which was especially cringe-worthy. Yet after staring at this screener for a couple weeks before taking the plunge, I can truly say that even for those who dislike hiking and camping, Earth was an extremely pleasant surprise that far surpassed the aforementioned works.
Likewise, it's just the right length in ensuring it doesn't over-analyze every single organism in the narration written for James Earl Jones (who takes over for the voice of Planet Earth, Mr. Patrick Stewart). Nor does Earth relish in the gore of attacks or slithering reptiles that may have driven younger viewers and this reviewer to nightmares as we move from the Arctic to the mountains to the tropics to the desert and beyond.
Of course, global warming is touched upon and it's truly heartbreaking to see a polar bear swimming--the same way we do, mind you for those who debunk evolution-- out much too far to try and acquire food to his peril. Yet Disney leaves lectures about our planet's condition to Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio via their acclaimed documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour respectively.
Having seen Penguins and Arctic Tale, I was especially thrilled when Earth moved away from the icy terrain. In doing so, audiences could enjoy the bizarre and often unintentionally humorous footage of not just a baby elephant on his first "road trip," but in my favorite segment, unprecedented access to species of birds which I'd never seen before in my nearly three decades of life on our planet.
Winner of the Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award, Earth is a terrific kick-off to Disney's new banner of nature themed works which couldn't be timelier as this disc also presents us with a glimpse of 2010's Oceans. Earth is also noteworthy for honoring the way that Disney is able to stay with the times yet never abandon their roots given the studio's 1950s topically similar Oscar winning True Life Adventure documentary series.
Moreover, it's this amazing benefit of granting viewers the chance to go places we'd never be able to visit from the top of Everest to the inner regions of the tropics that make documentaries like Earth so valuable and necessary from an educational perspective.
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