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Disney Nature Earth

Disney Nature Earth

Studio:Walt Disney Studios
Director:Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
Release Date:2009

By Lee Gardner | Posted 9/16/2009

THE MOVIE Remember Planet Earth, the epic BBC nature documentary/mini-series everyone went nutty over a few years ago? Well, long after its run on the Discovery Channel and brisk DVD/Blu-ray sales and rentals, Walt Disney Studios released a theatrical version, which has now made its way to DVD/Blu-ray. Cut down from nearly 11 hours to an hour and a half, Earth retains much of what drew so many viewers to its earlier incarnations: high-quality visuals painstakingly captured in some of the planet's most remote and stunningly beautiful locations, featuring flora and, especially, fauna, as seen in new and often intimate ways. It focuses mostly on mini-series set-piece highlights such as polar bears scrapping out a living on the pack ice, a mother humpback whale and her calf migrating to feeding grounds, and lions stalking a full-grown elephant, along with various other beguiling behaviors and ravishing stop-motion sequences of less animated goings-on. James Earl Jones provides new, minimal narration.

What's missing, though, is the larger series' overarching concept of making the effort to capture our world in such detail because it is on the verge of changing, maybe forever, possibly not at all for the better. The haunting overhead shot of a lone male polar bear swimming through a nearly empty Arctic Ocean, looking for ever more elusive solid ice and prey, remains, but this version largely sidesteps context of any kind other than the old reliable nature-flick anthropomorphic narratives and some vague platitudes. Some footage (e.g. great white sharks going airborne to gulp seals off the coast of South Africa) shows up seemingly just because it's cool. And while Earth is full of jaw-dropping moments and piercing beauty (if you're Blu-ray equipped, especially), this iteration feels less like a thought-provoking visual hymn than a highlight reel for a theme-park attention span, with little or nothing on its mind. It makes for surprisingly undiverting viewing compared to the full-length version.

THE DISC The Blu-ray version features pop-up info tidbits and in-screen interview clips from directors Alistair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, who oversaw the shortened version; it also comes with a gratis DVD copy in the same packaging. Both DVD and Blu-ray offer a 42-minute behind-the-scenes featurette on the lengths gone to by those who worked on the $25 million, five-year shoot. (Turns out a couple of those hungry polar bears halfway tried to eat the camera crew.)

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