Human Planet (BBC/Warner Bros., 2011)
Given that it’s the year 2011, we have teams of nature-loving filmmakers crawling the globe with cameras all the time, and there’s more than one 24-hour cable channel dedicated solely to the amazing wonders of our planet, a person could be forgiven for thinking that the whole nature documentary thing has pretty much exhausted every available topic. We’ve seen it all at this point, right?
Not hardly. Mutual of Omaha jokes aside, our experience of the world around us is incredibly limited, even now — and BBC Earth’s Human Planet demonstrates this in jaw-droppingly vivid fashion. At a whopping six hours, it might seem like a daunting investment of time to watch it all, but trust me: these are six of the quickest hours you’re likely to spend in front of your television.
Synopsis: Human Planet is an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping landmark series that marvels at mankind’s incredible relationship with nature in the world today.
Uniquely in the animal kingdom, humans have managed to adapt and thrive in every environment on Earth. Each episode takes you to the extremes of our planet: the arctic, mountains, oceans, jungles, grasslands, deserts, rivers and even the urban jungle. Here you will meet people who survive by building complex, exciting and often mutually beneficial relationships with their animal neighbours and the hostile elements of the natural world.
Human Planet crews have filmed in around 80 locations, bringing you many stories that have never been told on television before. The team has trekked with HD cameras and state of the art gear to film from the air, from the ground and underwater. The result: a “cinematic experience” created by world-class natural history and documentary camera crews and programme makers.
Video: Programs like Human Planet live or die based on their visuals, and the folks at the BBC know it; each of Planet‘s installments is stuffed with breathtaking views, incredible shots, and how-did-they-do-that? camerawork. It was filmed in HD, and on Blu-ray, the difference really shows — this is a world of startling, colorful beauty, and Human Planet captures it in crisp, vibrant detail. Sheer entertainment value aside, this is demo material for your hi-def screen.
Audio: Like pretty much any other documentary you’ll see, Human Planet is largely driven by narration and other dialogue; you aren’t going to hear any window-rattling explosions or showy orchestral score. But what you will notice is the way the DST-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack drops you into the program. It’s wholly immersive, but subtly so; you aren’t going to notice the waves crashing or birds calling around you as much as you’re just going to feel the show happening around you. Which is exactly as it should be.
Special Features: Weighing in at roughly 100 total minutes, Human Planet‘s bonus features offer illuminating, if inessential, looks behind the scenes of each segment. Most of what you get is contained in the “behind the lens” segments that follow each chapter, but there are two extra clips (one revolting 11-minute look at the Fez Tannery filming from the third disc, and a 10-minute bonus glimpse inside the Kawah Ijen Volcano). And if your Blu-ray player is BD-Live enabled, you also get access to exclusive streaming featurettes (one has posted as I write this; the studio promises more to come).
Bottom Line: I’m not the world’s biggest nature documentary fan, and I’ve watched a bunch of these over the last several years, so I approached Human Planet with a touch of weary resignation, expecting to witness the beginning of the end of the recent HD supernaturedoc craze. I mean, really — humans? They’re thoughtless and gross. Who wants to watch a movie about them?
I was, to put it bluntly, amazed. And engrossed. This is something we all know, to one extent or another, but Human Planet serves as a powerful demonstration of the fact that there are amazing people in the world, doing amazing things purely to survive — some by training their bodies to adapt to their surroundings (watch the clip below), some by developing and maintaining astounding rituals. This is haunting footage, brilliantly assembled, and in a society where something as simple as scrolling through your Facebook feed can fill a person with profound depression, Human Planet offers thrilling proof that we’re still capable of unspeakable beauty.