Planet Earth-Episodes 1-5 (2006)

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Released 17-Aug-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 290:37 (Case: 287)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alastair Fothergill
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring David Attenborough
David Attenborough
Case Slip Case
RPI $39.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Just around the technological corner lie the new high definition DVD formats. Released some months ago in the US, keen DVD watchers are salivating at the image and sound quality possibilities presented by these formats.

    The reason for this introduction is simple. Planet Earth Part 1 is the best nature programme to be released on DVD for reasons I will set out in more detail later. But... the programme was shown on ABC television in High Definition earlier this year. Notwithstanding that the DVD is of reference quality, containing images amongst the most beautiful I have ever seen, it is still not as good as it was on TV. That's right - the mighty DVD format which offered movie lovers a glimpse of their favourite movies in glorious clarity has been superseded by the humble TV and High Definition set top box. In each of the episodes I could remember key scenes where the DVD simply did not stand up to the High Definition broadcast. Bring on the HD formats!

    Those are the negatives. It doesn't detract in any way from the show itself but people who watched them in High Definition may get a surprise when they compare the visual quality.

    Back to the series itself. As said, it is a flawless nature program. This is not just because it was apparently the most expensive nature program ever, weighing in at the unthinkable $20 million mark. But, truth be told, the huge budget has allowed the BBC to do the previously impossible like sending teams of filmmakers into hostile environments for months, even years, to film rare sights. Some of these moments are unforgettable - the rare snow leopard with its cub, the polar bear and its young, the flocks of birds and animals that fill the screen, the deepest darkest caves in the known world - the list is almost endless.

    The series has been split into two halves with part 2 due on TV in the near future. It was the first programme on the BBC to be shot and broadcast in High Definition although there have not been any announcements about releasing it on a HD format.

    The quality of the images are beyond stunning. Each episode has a 10 minute Making of feature at the end which explains the steps the filmmakers had to go through to get their shots. The first feature, about the filming of wild dogs in Africa, introduces us to a helicopter mounted camera which is capable of taking pristine shots from a kilometre away!

    Planet Earth is narrated by the redoubtable David Attenborough. Perhaps because of the nature of the locations or maybe due to his advancing age, Attenborough is off-screen for the show although his narration is of his usual standard. Apparently the 83 year old Attenborough is due to retire after his next series for the BBC. He will be sorely missed!

Episode 1: From Pole To Pole

    This episode acts as an introduction, giving us snippets of the many and varied environments which will be on show during the series. The key moments are not repeated later such as the wild dog hunt referred to above. For those who love their seals the episode includes some ultra slow motion footage of great white sharks diving spectacularly out of the water to eat their fill of seal. It is some of the most amazing footage I have seen. It is not all animals eating other animals as there is also lovely footage of some baboons rather daintily wading through a pond with their paws held high so as not to get them wet!

Episode 2: Mountains

    This episode gives the aerial team from Planet Earth a chance to really flex their muscles. There are spectacular mountain shots galore. The opening shot is unforgettable. A climber is ascending a snowy mountain. The camera pans out to expose an entire range of snow-capped peaks with a focus level that is breathtaking. Even more amazing are the creatures including monkeys and members of the deer family that live on the side of these mountains. These animals happily live, play and fight on the edge of the abyss. We even get to see one of the world's rarest creatures, the snow leopard.

Episode 3: Fresh Water

    This episode follows the life of fresh water streams and pools around the planet and their many and varied inhabitants. The crocodile impresses, particularly a sequence where they prey on wildebeest, showing an attack in very painful slow motion. It is almost as if the unfortunate fate of these creatures is frozen in time. This is definitely one of those shows where the explanation to the younger ones that nature can be cruel is needed. The underwater photography is amazing and you have to marvel at the courage of the photographers who get into close proximity with all manner of dangerous water predators from giant salamanders to crocodiles galore and the feared piranha. There is some spectacular footage of raging rapids and huge waterfalls. The footage of dust cloud-like columns of mating flies over Lake Malawi is truly awe-inspiring.

Episode 4: Caves

    Beginning with the stunning image of a man base jumping into the deepest cavern in the world this episode takes us in to the heart of some of the deepest and alien environments on earth, filled with strange creatures such as eyeless salamanders not to mention more cockroaches than your wildest nightmares! Caves come in many forms as the episode shows. There are the deep dark beautiful caves such as the formation filled Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico, filmed in its glory for the first and perhaps last time. There are the underwater caves some of which have not yet been plotted as they run so long and are so dangerous to traverse. Finally, there are the batcaves filled with millions of guano dropping bats leading to mounds of poo and, therefore, mounds of bugs.

Episode 5: Deserts

    Deserts make up 30% of the Earth's surface. Although on the face of it they are barren and lifeless this episode takes us onto the shifting sands and shows how life exists in the barren wastelands. Huge sand storms and scorching heat (and sometimes freezing cold) are all the challenges facing desert life. Chief amongst the animals featured in this episode are desert elephants who travel long distances to find food and water each day as well as the smallest creatures like locusts who travel in plague numbers and are capable of devastating a landscape in hours.

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Transfer Quality

Video

   Planet Earth is presented on DVD in a 1.78:1 transfer, consistent with its original aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    As said above this is one of the finest DVD presentations I have seen. Clocking in at an admirable average 7.52 Mbps the DVD gives the programs room to move and there are no compression problems. Dust clouds, flocks of birds and splashing water, which can create havoc for compression, are here handled with ease and crystal clear image.

    Suffice it to say there are no problems of aliasing, artefacts or other defects whatsoever.

    The standout visual moments are legion. Some of the finest examples from each episode include: the fast motion sunflowers at the detail on the monkeys at 19:17 (Episode 1), 3:52 (Episode 2), the wildebeest and crocodile footage at 22:00 (Episode 3), the beautiful yet spooky underwater caves at 23:27 (Episode 4) and the dew dripping cacti at 20:41 (Episode 5).

    As said, however, every scene is a marvel from the close-ups to the vistas and the many space shots.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sound for Planet Earth is English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s). The main theme is majestic and it is fair to say that the music quality is on a par with the visuals. The music is by four time Academy Award Nominee George Fenton and he has produced a score perfectly adapted to each scene, from the thrilling hunts to the awe-inspiring mountains and waterfalls, to the quirky and sometimes ridiculous aspects of the animal kingdom. The orchestration is varied and includes solo instruments where appropriate. Particularly powerful is the solo violin over orchestra during the wildebeest and crocodile conflict in Episode 3.

    The music and sound make good use of the surround and the subwoofer often comes to life in a subtle fashion.

    The animals appear to be in audio sync!

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Each episode ends with a special presentation of about 8-10 minutes length giving background as to the filming of particular scenes. These are not only testimony to the courage and perseverance of the photographers but mini dramas in their own right.

Episode 1: From Pole To Pole

    This feature concentrates on the efforts taken to film the hunt by wild dogs of some deer in Botswana. Not only did the team have to use a helicopter mounted camera for the aerial shots but also a team on the ground to record their minute movements. The sequence, which had never been filmed before, demonstrates the amazing team hunting skills of these dogs.

Episode 2: Mountains

    The snow leopard is one of the earth's rarest animals and the efforts taken by the team to film it reflect its almost mythical status. Sent out into the wilderness of the Himalayas for a two year mission the cameraman lived and breathed the slopes. After an extraordinary time of seeing precisely nothing he finally got some shots of the animal including the added benefit of filming a cub.

Episode 3: Fresh Water

    There is devotion to duty and then there is this cameraman who spent weeks trying to dive amongst the piranhas and caimans of the Amazon. When even a night dive failed to find real traces of piranha the cameraman feared that they would never get to see the fish in action. Finally, he managed to swim amongst them whilst they were stripping a fish to its bones. Despite declaring that the piranha is more myth than killer I still wasn't tempted to join him in the water!

Episode 4: Caves

    Bugophobics take note - this feature looks at the hardships borne by the film crew who spent over a month in a hot dank cave with the largest mound of guano in the world as well as the largest concentration of cockroaches to be found anywhere. Seeing a cameraman putting extra tape on his clothing to stop the cockroaches getting into his pants was a sobering image. The second part of this feature looks at the filming of the Lechugilla Cave in New Mexico. The team spent an unhealthy 10 days in the pitch black underground to film some startling limestone formations. Apparently this is the first and probably last time that the custodians will allow film cameras into the cave.

Episode 5: Deserts

    Filming wild camels in the Gobi Desert presented special challenges. The desert is huge, the camels are rare and the landscape is largely flat and expansive. The camels are very nervous and take off before the camera team can get within useful range. When the camels are finally filmed it comes at the end of an arduous 32 days in the desert.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I am unable to find any reference to Planet Earth being released in Region 1. Apparently a combined DVD will be released after the series has been shown in full and a cinema release will be given to a selection of the best moments

Summary

    Planet Earth is the finest nature documentary on DVD. Anyone who is interested in this type of programme should race to add this to their collection.

    The visual and sound quality are stunning.

    The extras are appropriate and indispensable.

    A superior DVD.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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