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December 10, 2007
Planet Earth - Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Narrator
N/A6/12/2007Village RoadshowDavid Attenborough
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1Dolby Digital 5.1 448kbpsPGNature!

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One of the worlds greatest animals.
As a nature lover I have wanted to check out Planet Earth for some time. I loved the BBC's previous series The Blue Planet but this production exceeds that in every way. Better cinematography, more depth, more locations, and more amazing moments. So applauded is this series that it won four Emmy awards, and was nominated for three others.

Even the stats on this production are impressive. Planet Earth had a production budget of around £13 million ($AU30 million), was filmed in 62 different countries, and took around 5 years to make. The end result is a 11-part documentary with each episode running just shy of an hour. As an added bonus the Blu-Ray version of Planet Earth in Australia includes a 5th disc with 2 additional documentaries - Desert Lions and Snow Leopards.

The first three Blu-Ray discs in this set hold 3 episodes each, while the fourth disc holds the final two episodes in the series. As we previously mentioned the fifth disc holds the two bonus documentaries. So let's take a brief look at what each of the episodes covers...

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    There are plenty of gorgeous shots from the air!
    1. From Pole to Pole: This first documentary has a brief look at many of the wonderful environments (snow, deserts, jungles, water etc) that make up this world, and which will be explored in more detail in the other 10 documentaries. This is a great overview episode with some of the best moments shown - perfect for a 50 minute Blu-Ray demonstration.

  • 2. Mountains: the second episode focuses on the many mountain ranges around the globe including their formations and volcanos.

  • 3. Fresh Water: Fresh water is the key to life and this episode looks at the rivers and lakes around the globe and the animals that inhabit them. While only 3% of the worlds water is fresh, it is critical to our, and the planets survival.

  • 4. Caves: With depths of over 400 meters caves remain one of the least explored areas on our planet. This episode features some breathtaking scenes as skydivers jump into Mexico's Cave of Swallows which is big enough to fit the Empire State building. Much of this episode takes place with very low light and is one of the more disappointing visually with quite a bit of grain in places.

  • 5. Deserts: From the wettest places on the earth to the driest. The Gobi Desert in Mongolia is a focus due to the extremes of temperature - from –40°C to over 50°C. The episode also looks t the Sahara, massive dust storms and even the Australian Outback.

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    Pop quiz hotshot: What is this called?
    6. Ice Worlds: For me, this was one of the most amazing episodes with the focus on the Arctic and Antarctic. Some of the footage in this episode with the Polar Bears was a little graphic, but that's nature. Animals have to eat! Some footage in this episode is a little grainy, but given the extreme temperatures and weather conditions that the filmmakers were exposed to it is understandable.

  • 7. Great Plains: This seventh episode looks at the great grazing planes around the world and the massive migrations which take place across them. I can't honestly say that I have ever seen better images of some Wild Ass!

  • 8. Jungles: Jungles and tropical rainforests certainly provide some of the most rich environments with over half the worlds species located in just 3% of the land area. Did you know in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea only 2% of the sunlight reaches the ground due to the dense growth. It's an amazing episode which certainly shows off the brilliance of the Blu-Ray format with many rich colours.

  • 9. Shallow Seas: A look at the shallower ocean waters including the marine life - such as whales and reef dwellers - that live within them.

  • 10. "Seasonal Forests: A look at the massive coniferous and deciduous forests around the world. The world's largest living thing is shown in this episode. Can you guess what it is. I'll give you a clue.. It's the size of 10 Humpback Whales!

  • 11. Ocean Deep: The final episode looks at the area which we know the least about, the deepest depths of the ocean.

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Exploring underwater caves.
So we also mentioned the 5th disc in this set in Australia with the documentaries Desert Lions and Snow Leopards which are a part of the Natural World series, and both also narrated by David Attenborough. Each of these documentaries is almost up to the main feature presentation. Desert Lions runs for 49:12 and Snow Leopards for 48:50. The video quality isn't quite up to the standards set in the main Planet Earth feature, but it's not too far behind. The actual documentaries though give a facsinating insight into the lives of each of these two magnificent creatures the latter of which is down to only a few thousand animals still living in the wild.

All-in-all this is quite possibly the best $AU99.95 (even less if you shop around) you could spend on the Blu-Ray format. This is an absolutely remarkable set with imagery that will have you running through your full range of emotions - amazement, humour, sadness, and appreciation for what we have on this gorgeous planet of ours.

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A massive dust storm...
Video quality in Planet Earth is, to put it bluntly, quite exceptional although it isn't without some small issues which we will get onto in a minute. There are so many reference quality moments throughout this 11 hour series that I simply can not list them all. The richness in the images and the detail in the planet is unprecedented in home video. We have also compared this VC-1 encoded Blu-Ray set with the MPEG-2 DVD set and there really is no comparison. The extra clarity and detail in the High Definition format shines through and is really the only way to view the series. Well, OK, if you don't have a Blu-Ray player the DVD version is technically as good as that format has looked too!

In terms of the small issues the biggest of these is that at times the image can look a little soft - but when you realise that some of the footage has been shot from hundreds of meters away and then zoomed in on a small animal it's understandable (one prime example is the footage of the two polar bear cubs in the Arctic). In some other instances, particularly in the darker or underwater shots, there is visible grain while on another occasion, when looking at waves during the third episode Deep Ocean>, there was some strange banding apparent in the waves.

One area which was slightly disappointing in the transfer of this series to Blu-Ray was the audio. Each disc includes Dolby Digital 5.1 audio encoded at 448kbps. This is certainly well below that expected on the Blu-Ray format with Linear PCM at 4.6mbps, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio becoming the norm for most newer releases. Now, we do realise that there are no big special effects and explosions on offer, nor large crowds with dialogue, but this is nature at its best. Even the rustling of leaves, the dripping of icy cold water or the cries of the smallest bird could have been improved with a higher bitrate.

In terms of positives the narration by David Attenborough is crystal clear and he provides a perfect voiceover for documentaries. Also giving the episodes some additional oomph is the music from George Fenton which fades in and out as required. I did admire they way that, for much of the episodes, you are left to simply listen to the sound of nature with pauses in narration and music.

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The imagery is simply gorgeous.
Sadly this Blu-Ray release is devoid of extras. We believe that the American Discovery Channel version has a series of small featurettes on the filming of the documentary however with a runtime of only 25-odd minutes it's not an extra that one will miss. What may be a little more missed is are the three documentaries called Planet Earth – The Future which look at the extinction of animals, how humans are damaging the environment, and what needs to be done to save it. It would have been nicer to have these three documentaries then the two provided on disc 5 - despite their brilliance.

Another big opportunity missed which I would have loved to see would be a trivia track providing more details about the footage on screen; animal names, their rarity in the wild, locations, and other tidbits. A Picture-in-Picture interactive map of where each major sequence was shot would have also been most welcome. I guess though, given the limited market for this set and the late arrival of Blu-Ray Profile 1.1 it would have been quite an expense to include, if it was possible at all!

If you're looking for one of the greatest documentaries of all time, and in jaw dropping High Definition reference quality video then look no further. This is one of the greatest TV shows ever produced, and the Blu-Ray discs do the production justice. An essential purchase for any nature lover.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© BBC/Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.