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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Planet Earth: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Planet Earth: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // October 4, 2011 // Region A
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted December 1, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:

One of the first really impressive TV shows to be released on Blu-ray, The Planet Earth, has been the go-to disc in my house to illustrate to visitors the quality of Blu-ray discs.  The documentary series from the BBC is both visually stunning and thoroughly captivating.  Filled with images of animals and nature that have never been shown before, this is a unique look at our planet.  The Blu-ray presentation is simply gorgeous with a picture that just jumps off the screen.  The original release was earlier this year with The Planet Earth: Special Edition that had the same amazing picture and sound but added a slew of quality extras.  Now the BBC has released a limited edition of the SE set in an amazingly cool globe that houses the discs.

One of the most (if not the most) expensive nature shows ever produced, The Planet Earth had a budget of approximately $25 million.  It was filmed over a five year period and utilized over 200 locations in 62 countries.  While those figures are impressive, they don't begin to prepare viewers for the amazing sights that are contained in each episode.  This is really a ground breaking series, since it utilizes technology that hadn't been previously used in shows about animal life and the environment.  Not only was the series filmed in high definition, but they employed a new camera system that was able to let them do things filmmakers couldn't do in the past.  This system could be mounted on the bottom of a helicopter and still obtain a still, non-jerky image.  Very powerful lenses were used too, allowing the creators to get crystal clear close-ups from a very long distance away.

In just about every nature show about Africa you'll see an aerial shot of a herd of Wildebeest thundering across the plains.  This is because once the helicopter came near the animals, they became startled and ran.  That doesn't happen in this series. With their advanced camera set up, the creators could fly high enough so that the animals on the ground didn't even know they were there.  This is a key part of the show.  For the first time (in many cases) viewers can see animals acting totally candidly.

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, each of the eleven episodes in this series takes a look at another ecosystem or area.  From the peaks of the tallest mountains to the depths of the oceans, from pole to pole and even into the interior of the planet, there is seemingly no type of wilderness that is left unphotographed.  Every episode is filled with amazing scenes of the local flora and fauna living out their lives, and interesting facts about the habitat being examined.

This series is all about stunning images.  Viewers get to see the rare Snow Leopard (with only 40 estimated to be living in the wild) hunting in the Himalayas, running down-hill across rocky, near vertical, terrain in pursuit of a mountain goat.   I can't imagine slowly climbing down that land, much less running full bore, leaping over rocks and landing gracefully on boulders.  The migration of caribou is nearly as impressive.  As the camera, focused on a small group, pulls out farther and farther the herd goes from large to huge to gigantic to amazing.  Three million animals travel together each year, and to see it up close and personal is remarkable.
 
The only thing against the show is its lack of depth.  While every episode looks at one type of environment, none of them are really looked at closely.  This isn't an examination of any one topic, but an overview of many.  There were times where some more detail and background information would have been welcome.  This is a minor complaint though, since the information the show does give is so engaging and visually moving.

I would be remiss if I didn't note a word of warning about this series.  It is about nature, and life in the wild can be violent and short.  Animals die and many of them are eaten by predators.  One of the most amazing shots in a series filled with amazing shots contains seals swimming in the sea.  All of a sudden a large seal will disappear inside the mouth of a Great White Shark that leaps out of the water, swallowing its prey whole.  There are sad parts too, such as the baby elephant that loses his mother in a sand storm while crossing the Gobi.  The young thing was smart enough to follow his mother's footprints, but he follows them the wrong way, and slowly walks deeper into the desert and certain death.  This isn't the focus of the series, and these parts are in the minority.  And while none of the scenes are overly bloody or gruesome, young and sensitive children may be affected by these scenes.

The DVD:


 
These 11 episodes, about 50-minutes in length each, come on four Blu-ray discs, then there are two discs filled with extras.  These each come in a paper sleeve which in turn are housed in a globe.  The northern hemisphere of the sphere opens up to reveal slots for all of the discs as well as a sticker identifying it as a limited edition set.  (These are limited to 50,000 numbered sets.)  The coolest part is that the inside of the upper half is illustrated with a forest scene, so it looks like you're laying on the ground looking up the tall greenery.  There are also four exclusive art cards included.  All in all an attractive set.


Video:

These discs present the show in 1080i, which is a step down from the 1080p that the original release boasted.  Doing an A/B comparison it was clear that the differences were very minute and in a blind test I can't imagine anyone watching a single episode could tell if it was the progressive or interlaced version.  In any case, the image looks simply amazing.  If you want to show some guests just why you spent all of that money on a Blu-ray player and HD display, just throw this puppy in and watch their eyes pop out.  The level of detail is excellent, with individual drops of water being easy to discern when a whale exhales from its blow-hole.  The colors are also stunning; they are bright, solid, and just pop off the screen.  From the radiance of an endless field of wild flowers to the bright feathers of the Bird of Paradise, this set really brings forth all of the hues in glorious brilliance.  Likewise the undersea shots and low light images (such as winter in the Antarctic) are clear and detailed with a wide range of gray tones.

Digital defects, mosquito noise, aliasing, and macro blocking are not a concern what so ever.  This is an excellent looking set that is sure to please the most discriminating viewers.

Audio:

This set come with a nice DTS-HD 5.1 track in English and there are optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.  This audio track is an improvement over the original DD 5.1 audio.  The sound is more crisp and defined, which is most evident in the scenes where the natural sounds of the planet are the only thing playing.  The whale songs in one episode sound magnificent and totally immerse the viewer in the images on the screen.  A very nice sounding set.

The lack of a lossless audio track is another strike against the discs, though the DD 5.1 doesn't have any noticeable defects or imperfections.

Extras:

I was disappointed in the lack of extras on the original release, but this edition comes through in spades.  First off there are commentaries for 5 of the episodes by the producer of the episode.  You can hear them talk about the trials and tribulations of filming on Pole to Pole, Mountains, Caves, Great Plains, and Shallow Seas.  There is also a music-only option which I found really enjoyable.  Playing an installment without the narration creates a wonderful screen saver/ vitrual window onto a different part of the world.  I'll strongly consider having that up the next time I host a gathering at my house.

The meat of the bonus material are the video extras, and they're quite impressive.  Planet Earth Video Diaries presents an extra 10 minutes of footage for each episode that goes behind the scenes and shows what it took to create the show.  Great Planet Earth Moments is another episode cobbled together from the best bits of the series.  If this doesn't sell you on the show, nothing will.   

There are also four nearly hour-long additional episodes:  The Future: Living Together is one of the best shows on conservation that I've ever seen.  It presents its message forcefully (we need to take better care of the planet) but it isn't heavy-handed and all doom and gloom.  Honestly, most shows of this type that I watch are depressing and spend most of their time blaming all of the problems on the viewer.  That's not the case with this show.  It's interesting more than depressing.  Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth looks at the rare cats, Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert takes a close look at migrating pachyderms, and Secrets of the Maya Underworld follows archeologists as they explore ruins in the Yucatan.  All three are engrossing and interesting and really add a lot to the whole package.  The bonus material is wrapped up with a 13-minute sneak peek to Frozen Planet, a new seven part documentary series that the BBC is producing along with the Discovery Channel.   A very cool set of extras.

Final Thoughts:

This is one amazing series.  I've seen my share of wilderness shows in my time and I can safely say that this is the most impressive one, hands down.  With jaw-dropping scenes, remarkable (while not being dreary) information and compelling narration, Planet Earth is a show that is a joy to watch.  This Blu-ray set is reference quality, with a picture that is so brilliant and detailed that it is going to be hard to beat.  The extras included with this collection are wonderful and the limited edition eye-catching packaging is very, very cool.  This should make it to the top of a lot of wish lists this holiday season.  It easily earns the DVDTalk Collector Series rating.  

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
 

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