“Planet Earth”

I was really excited by the first few shows of BBC/Disovery’s “Planet Earth“. But the show just never seems to actually shift into gear. From the get-go, it feels like a preview, like an advert.

Part of it is the behind-the-scenes insets. Hey, if I frickin’ care how hard it was to film a waterfall, I’ll watch the extras disk on the DVD.

Another part has to be the narrator. In many of the episodes, her voice is flat, emotionless, unenthusiastic, remote, detatched, dull. They seem to have noticed this, in the latter episodes she’s sounded a little less androgynous, a little more interested. But she still lacks that rich sense of passion we’ve become accustomed to by the hands-on narrators: Bellamy, Attenboro even Irwin.

Its an incredibly beautiful show, spectactular shots. But everything is fleeting. A giraffe, a camel, a dolphin, a satellite photo, an ad break.

The lack of real meat makes it remind me of some of the thick, glossy nature books my relatives would get me as a kid. “The picture above is a picture of an ant. This kind of ant is found in Africa. The picture is of one of these ants, in Africa, on a plain. To the right is the picture of the plain, the plain in Africa which the ant in the picture above lives in. The ant is famous in Africa, where it lives on the plain, for living on the plain, in Africa, where it lives and is famous for doing so”.

Turn page, don’t bother with the text this time. Planet Earth, the show, is just one long series of montages of a genre which is usually best served by focus.

10s of a “spectacled caiman”, 8 seconds of a fish with a fish in its mouth, some more fishes and the narrator tells me, in the deadpan voice of the Wells-fargo automated phone system, “it took 3 weeks of searching in the vast Pantanar, to find them . A sight seldom filmed in the wild. A piranah feeding frenzy”. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, “In minutes piranah can strip a fish to the bone”. Next sequence.

Well, I guess it was a Piranah feeding frenzy. For all they showed us it could have been a handful of siamese battlefish in a tank that someone stirred up.

The best thing I can say for the show, honestly, is that it puts me asleep faster than DNS & Bind ever did, and I’ve been having trouble sleeping.

12 Comments

That’s strange. The little lady and I watched the first episode last night and it was narrated by an older guy with a slightly British accent. I thought it was fun seeing the topical bird mating dances (funneh) and the Great White Sharks coming fully out of the water when feeding on seals. Also seeing the crew struggling to take video of the pack dogs hunting was interesting too.

but you are right in that they do tend to skip past stuff or leave you with slightly less than you might have been looking for. I am guessing that later episodes may leave me wanting more details :-)

Yeah. I just checked. Planet Earth: From Pole to Pole was narrated by David Attenborough.

Yup, if you watch the UK version it is David Attenbrough that narrates it.

I do agree however that it does only really cover each segment in large brushstrokes, but i guess you would have to if you were doing a documentary on the whole planet.

Attenborough rocks. He did the orignial and I don’t recall the exact name.

The pace is as slow as the History Channel’s “Dogfights” where they give you the preview, commercial, replay the preview and then add some build-up, commercial, replay the preview with a faster build-up, dogfight outcome in 10 seconds (which you already know because they’ve built it up as “Historic” so the pilot or co-pilot and crew must survive to tell the story), then commercial, then come back with a REview, and preview the next tale.

15 minutes of story and commercials that could’ve been told in 3 exciting minutes. But…we are NOT the average television viewer, either.

I try to teach my daughters about “average”. Average American. For example, median American household income (combined income of all earners in the house) from Wikipedia:

“In 2005, the median annual household income according to the US Census Bureau was determined to be $46,326,[3] similar to that of Canada which was roughly $41,510 (USD) in the year 2000.[4] The median income per household member (including all working and non-working members above the age of 14) in the year 2003 was $23,535.[5]” (note difference from average vs. median, though!)

They are trying to attract that viewership, as well. That means pictures. Public TV viewers of higher earning households, or above average education, are already watching verbose descriptions of particular animals or geographic locations.

Most amazing nature shots are amazing because of the rarity of the footage. Rarity as a function of time, therefore, there is an interesting story to learn of what it took for the cinematographers to get that footage. Example: “March of the Penguins” was rightly famous and covered the most isolated group of animals in the world; Emperor Penguins. The DVD included the footage of what it took for the photographers to gain all the footage that made up the film, and their sacrifice was almost as good a story as the Penguins. (National Geographic has a GREAT book about arctic survival by the way, “The Worst Journey in the World”, written by a survivor of one of the doomed arctic explorers. I recommend it highly.)

I wanted to love Blue Planet. I like it for the same reasons that you note, KFS. It was the piranhas that took them 3 weeks to find, which was instructional to me, since all other films make you think the Amazon is simply highly stocked with these fish!

Bottom Line: I will watch anything that Sir David Attenborough (is he related to the famous Attenborough family of England?) cares to narrate.

The current Blue Planet show is like the Master’s golf tournament when Tiger Woods is not contending, interesting – but I don’t mind napping through an hour of it. :)

Yep, David Attenborough is the older brother to Richard Attenborough the actor (and got a bit of teasing for becoming a wimpy actor if my memory serves)

I think it’s just the general dumbing down of shows that cross the pond from the UK – dont understand why they do that; feels like most US producers have low opinions of the US market (which i find contrary to everyone i’ve ever talked to)

Planet Earth was also one of the BBC’s shows they where pushing HD with. Almost along the lines, WOW this looks amazing especialy in HD! Which it does. :-)

As the others have said, having Attenborough narate it does add a lot. I grew up watching things like Life on Earth ,Living Planet & Trials of Life. Classic BBC at it’s best.

Dang, ok – I’m pretty sure the narrator would make a huge difference. The last episode I watched, it sounded like she’d finally come off the morphine or was maybe seeing some of the amazing footage she was watching. But even then, she started to trail off again towards the end of the show.

Seriously, in many of the episodes I struggle to tell whether she is an actual human narrator or a high-end voice system.

Urr its Sigourney Weaver isnt it?

Welcome to documentarys History/Discovery channel style. Unfortunately I would have to say they are dumbed down for American audiences…

It does come up with occasional gem like in the ‘deserts’ episode where they put the thermal camera on the kangaroos and show how they keep cool by licking their forearms. Something which I never knew. Was kinda cool.

Baraka achieved what this series didnt with me. Sometimes docos dont need narration, the gorgeous footage and your own quiet reflection is enough.

To me this series aim was not so much to educate, but to remind people how wonderful this joint is. Thats why i compared its affect on me to Baraka, as opposed to the old school academic nature docos on specific topics.

Kangaroo thing was pretty cool; those are the things that seem to bait you with the idea that it might be a higher-IQ show, but then it skips right on by. The coolness diluted down to a different pretty.

JC: I think its actually important to understand how rare and how special some of the footage is to really fully appreciate what oyu’re seeing, but the way its conveyed just seems to further the sense that its an advert.

Like Trooper says, there are some episodes where it does actually start to tell you something, and I found those the most profound – where spending a little time giving you some insight helped you connect better with what you were seeing – the episode with the sharks and the walruses is a good example.

Yes, its Sigourney Weaver good ‘ole miss Gorilla’s in the Mist. I think the aim of this show is for the HD crowd. Forget the voice over, just look at the pretty pictures in HD.

My 3 year old likes it. I’ve only had to fast forward through a couple of the scenes. That’s what a DVR is for, plus the 6 minutes of commercials.

Good thing about the BBC, there’s no interruptions for commercials during programs.

As Mwhitman’s said, Planet Earth’s being used to showcase the BBC’s HD broadcasting in the UK and it does look bloody spectacular.

Another thing I appreciate living in Canada – we are willing to take the British version and not redub it :-)

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