‘Earth’ will take your breath away

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:08pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Who doesn’t love a good nature documentary? Admit it: You’re idly clicking the remote control, and suddenly there’s a scene with giraffes and hippos at a watering hole, and a half-hour later you look around and wonder where the time went.

The most visually rapturous show of this kind, “Planet Earth,” has become a kind of cult phenomenon — the equivalent of crack cocaine for high-definition video addicts.

I wouldn’t know; I have a 10-year-old analog television. So the big-screen version of “Planet Earth,” called simply “Earth,” was all new to me.

And all amazing. I don’t care how many times you watched Steve Irwin befriend a crocodile or Marlin Perkins dodge a zebra, “Earth” will make your jaw drop.

Filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield photographed nature everywhere: polar bears in the Arctic ice, caribou crossing the tundra, elephants tramping across the dry plain.

Nonanimal nature is represented too: The flowering of trees and the falling of rivers are spectacularly filmed.

But let’s face it, people want to watch the animals. And “Earth” serves them up — with a good balance of the expected nature-documentary staples, cuteness and horror.

On the cuteness side, we get ducklings flinging themselves out of a nest and polar bear cubs sliding around on a snow bank. And penguins, of course. You didn’t seriously think they’d leave out the penguins, did you?

Death is part of the landscape, of course, and in nature’s breathtakingly amoral way, it doesn’t always work out the way you’d like. There’s an astonishing shot (taken from a helicopter so high it doesn’t disturb the animals) of a wolf chasing a young caribou. This can only end one of two ways.

Another amazing sequence has infrared footage of a nighttime scene of lions facing down an elephant. And there’s a slow-motion shot of a cheetah pouncing on a gazelle trying to escape that is — well, I’m running out of synonyms for astonishing.

Seeing that sequence in super-slow-motion reminds you of the implacable nature of death in the wild, as well as the sheer beauty of these animals, both of which are almost sideways to the ground as they turn. When the cheetah gets its jaws around the neck of the gazelle, it looks more like a kiss than a death about to happen — as narrator James Earl Jones reminds us, this is simply part of the cycle of life.

“Earth” cuts away from animal kills before the really brutal stuff happens. But you can guess at the next act.

If nature is indifferent to life and death, viewers won’t be. Does it sound a little intense for young kids? Probably it will be, especially when a starving polar bear tries to feed on a walrus pack.

And anyway, whose idea was it to have James Earl Jones narrate? Not only does the movie get a little sugary with its storytelling (animal parents are invariably referred to as “Mom” and “Dad”), but the news that half of the polar bear cubs born are unlikely to survive very long is even worse coming from the mouth of Darth Vader.

Just keep thinking about those adorable ducklings.

“Earth” is distributed by the Disney company, which has vowed to plant a tree for every ticket-buyer, which might be a publicity gimmick but is undeniably superior to most movie-release publicity gimmicks.

It’s a jungle out there, but the jungle is shrinking — a point “Earth” makes in its discreet way, along with the stunning pictures.

Talk to us

More in Life

The 2023 Infiniti QX80 has standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive available on all models. (Infiniti)
2023 Infiniti QX80 is powerful and posh

A mighty V8 engine does the work while a luxurious interior provides the pleasure.

Artist Michelle Downes prepares to work on a few canvases in her garage workspace on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at her family’s home in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood artist Michelle Downes creates layered dreamscapes in resin

Resin is one part chemistry and one part artistry. Downes combines the two to make art that captures the imagination.

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

Most Read