Earth song

In an ecologically unstable world, here’s a great chance to get under the skin of our blue planet.

Bibek Bhattacharya | Print Edition: August 23, 2009

The snow leopard is one of nature’s ghosts. Hidden in a massive white landscape of ice and rocks, these cats are rarely seen in the wild, let alone filmed in their habitat. A magnificent and notoriously shy animal, it is one of many seldom seen spooks that tumble out of the planet’s closet under the spectacular scrutiny of BBC’s TV series Planet Earth, now out on DVD.

Quality nature documentaries from England aren’t a new phenomenon. We’ve all seen at least one of David Attenborough’s many stellar wildlife films before, and although his connection to Planet Earth is limited to the narration, his deeply humane take on the wild informs this series as well.

What’s impressive is the sheer amount of ground that the shows cover. Divided broadly into eleven 50-minute episodes, each show talks about a different habitat and a number of its signature flora and fauna. The visuals take one’s breath away— be they be Google’s Earth-like satellite shots of the Andes stretching out over the South American continent, or the strangely captivating mating dance of the Superb Bird of Paradise, deep in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea.

The programme promises to show the planet as you’ve never seen it before and it comes quite close, including a snow leopard hunt in the Karakoram Mountains to a breathtaking aerial documentary of African wild dogs hunting in the bush. A fascinating aside to each show are the Planet Earth Diaries, 10-minute featurettes which take you behind the scenes to show how the rarer footage was shot.

If your interest lies in the beauty of the land rather than the animals, the shows use contextual landscape shots so sumptuous, that you wonder what cameras they’re using. It turns out that apart from the HD cameras that were used in filming, the helicopter-borne Heligimbal device that was used for the stupendous aerial shots is the one often used in Hollywood action films.

Scored strongly with a taut script and a minimum of sentimentality, the shows set new standards in infotainment. The visuals effectively tell the epic stories, with a little help from the narration. After all, who needs background chatter when you’ve got the shots of migrating Demoiselle cranes flying over Mt Everest?

Series producer Alistair Fothergill and his globetrotting team shot much of the spectacular footage between 2001 and 2006, before climate change had become a mainstream concern. Yet, the series touches on the subject, and it does speak with a clear voice about the need to preserve the delicate balance of nature. The final show in the series talks about conservation and maps the impact man makes on the ecosystem. In the end the voice that stands out is Attenborough’s, who rues that a child’s instinctive fascination with the wild is lost when he becomes a pragmatic adult. What Planet Earth does best is to bring out that fascinated child in all of us.

The DVD of Planet Earth (5 discs) retails for Rs 1,199.

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