While the production of films like "Earth" is likely (at least in some part) due to "March of the Penguins" and other such films, Disney should be given a lot of credit for starting to offer films like "Earth", which is part of the new DisneyNature production arm (4 more films are currently listed as being planned for release under the DisneyNature banner.) Given the studio's worldwide reach, it's thrilling to see that they are providing a new generation of young viewers with programming that is both exciting and richly educational. Additionally, the studio went further, planting a tree in the Brazil Atlantic Forest for every filmgoer who saw "Earth" during its first week of release - which resulted in 2.7M trees being planted.
"Earth" (which is narrated by James Earl Jones) isn't exactly a new feature - it is a compressed, feature-length version of "Planet Earth", the wildly popular BBC series that was presented in the US on the Discovery Channel. To capture all the footage required by the producers, 71 cameramen and women filmed in 204 locations in 62 different countries on all seven continents, spending more than 2000 days in the field. While footage has been seen previously, the footage - filmed in HD - certainly had more impact on the big-screen, and looks marvelous on high-def in Blu-Ray.
The series goes around the world to visit with different species, and does so in great detail. The picture bounces around the planet, following a group of polar bears in the arctic, elephants in the deserts of Africa and birds in the rainforest, among others. While the film is obviously taken down a notch or seven visually to maintain a G rating, the picture still doesn't go so far as to drain the reality of the animal kingdom away completely - a scene where a pair of wolves shadow a pack of caribou is tense and frightening (as well as incredibly well-filmed, technically.) Just as fascinating is a scene where elephants and lions fight over dominance of a watering hole at night.
Actually, the entire film is simply remarkable from a film-making standpoint, as the cinematographers not only manage to get exceptionally close to the subjects, but glide over rough terrain with relative ease (aerial sequences were filmed using a heligimbal - a stabilized camera mounted on a helicopter.) Still, there's a matter of simply being there at the right moment and getting the shot on the first and only chance - such as a scene where a couple of baby ducks pop out of the next and glide - rather uneasily - towards the Earth below.
Another scene watches a funky little bird of paradise cleaning up his house in preparation for wooing the local ladies. Pulling up his feathers and showing eyes that almost appear to glow, the male dances around a female who, oddly enough, is not freaked out by the creature with the glowing eyes hopping around in front of her. While the film captures nature as is, there is one scene where the seasons wash over a forest that is certainly crafted using FX and looks quite gorgeous.
The film does work in a message regarding conserving the environment, and while certainly well-intentioned, the film could have offered a little more depth on the topic. Still, while it does use footage from "Planet Earth", this is a highly enjoyable and quite epic look at animal life across our planet. Additionally, the film's veering between different tones - sad, funny and frightening, among others - is superbly done.
VIDEO: "Earth" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) by Disney. The transfer looks simply lovely, as the studio has certainly done the visually gorgeous material (filmed in HD) justice. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, as fine, subtle details (the wear on a leaf, hair on an animal, feathers, etc) are presented with eye-popping clarity. Depth to the image also remains remarkable throughout, as the picture consistently has a three-dimensional feel.
No serious flaws were encountered, as the picture showed no edge enhancement or source flaws. Some slight artifacting was seen at times, but the picture otherwise looked absolutely pristine. Colors were breathtaking, with brilliant, bold tones looking marvelous, appearing well-saturated and clean. Overall, this was a reference quality presentation.
SOUND: The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is also a delight. While not a particularly aggressive audio experience, the surrounds are put to as much use as one might expect, considering the material. The rear speakers provide a great deal of ambience, and the level of depth and detail to the background audio of certain scenes does definitely add to the experience. Audio quality is excellent, with crystal clear narration and well-recorded animal sounds.
EXTRAS: An excellent 42-minute "making of" documentary is offered, as well as "Filmmaker Annotations" (picture-in-picture video commentary and behind-the-scenes footage during the film for bonusview-enabled players.)
Final Thoughts: While "Earth" does use footage from "Planet Earth", this is a highly enjoyable and quite epic look at animal life across our planet. The Blu-Ray offers outstanding audio/video quality, as well as a fine set of extras. Recommended.