First things first: Inside Planet Earth is in no way related to the BBC production of a similar name, though some of the subject matter is similar. This 2009 Discovery Channel production runs just 84 minutes, yet it covers plenty of ground in a short period of time; specifically, the ground beneath our feet. Like most nature-based documentaries, it relies heavily on scenic footage and concise, clear narration to tell its story in an entertaining and educational way. Due to the largely inaccessible areas it looks at, though, Inside Planet Earth uses a wealth of computer-rendered footage to show us how the Earth operates from the inside out.
Inside Planet Earth earns plenty of points for its subject matter alone: often times, the planet's surface is barely scratched. Instead of the typical mixture of cavern, ocean or space footage, we're given a glimpse of what mankind may very well never reach: the mysterious, inhospitable mass of rocks, minerals and lava beneath the Earth's continental crust. Though the crust is only 20-30 miles deep in most areas, mankind has never ventured deeper than 8 miles down; even then, long-term exploration has proven impossible, even with protective gear. However, using a combination of theories, equations and seismic equipment, scientists have been able to make reasonable guesses about what's underneath. We may never reach anywhere close to the planet's outer core (nearly 2,000 miles down), but it's not like we'd want to anyway: temperatures there are comparable to those on the surface of the Sun.
Aside from our literally layered journey downward, Inside Planet Earth reminds us how the surface of our planet is affected by what goes on inside---and, most importantly, how fragile our precise ecosystem really is. From the magnetic shield created by the Earth's core to masses of magma from flowing volcanoes, the majority of surface-dwelling life would be altered drastically if things changed...even by a fraction. Featuring concise narration by Rob Naughton (Treasure Quest), Inside Planet Earth is a compelling, educational and highly accessible documentary that fans of all ages should certainly enjoy. If you're the type that normally falls asleep during these things, Inside Planet Earth might just be your gateway drug.
Presented on DVD by Image Entertainment, Inside Planet Earth arrives on DVD with plenty going for it. Aside from the strength of the main feature, there's also a solid technical presentation and a few well-intentioned extras...including a bonus film that's longer than the main feature itself. All things considered, it's one package that documentary fans won't want to ignore.
No major complaints here. Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Inside Planet Earth looks roughly on par with most modern nature documentaries. Obviously, there's a bit of difference: since many of the visuals are computer-rendered, they look clean, clear and free from major digital imperfections. Some of the stock footage and on-the-fly segments don't quite match up, but that's strictly due to the source material. The film's natural color palette appears accurate, black levels are solid and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is less impressive but still has its moments. Separation is strong and the narration comes through clearly, never fighting for attention with the film's occasionally dramatic score. A surround mix would've been interesting, but what's here still gets the job done. Optional English SDH captions are presented during the main feature and some of the extras.
Also here is a like-minded Bonus Film entitled "Amazing Earth" (94:14), narrated by Patrick Stewart. The subject matter explained here is highly similar to Inside Planet Earth and there's some mild overlap, but this detailed documentary focuses more on the Earth's formation and history. Still, we also learn more about its structure as well, including how tectonic plate collisions, volcanic eruptions and other natural forces gradually (and drastically) changed the landscape over millions of years. Stewart's narration is a true highlight as well: his voice is strong and expressive, lending a heightened sense of drama to the eye-opening visuals. Like Inside Planet Earth, it's entertaining and educational from start to finish, even during periods of pure speculation.
Both bonus features are presented in anamorphic widescreen ("Amazing Earth" looks closer to 1.66:1), but only the deleted scenes lack optional English SDH captions. This is an unfortunate oversight, but at least the lengthy bonus film includes them.
Entertaining, accessible and informative, Inside Planet Earth is a standout documentary that even casual fans will enjoy. Filled with plenty of eye-opening visuals and interesting experiments, you'll walk away with a greater understand of what's going on right beneath your feet. Image Entertainment's DVD release certainly carries its own weight, offering a solid technical presentation and plenty of bonus content to chew on. All things considered, it's a solid package with a reasonable ticket price---and with content this strong, what more could you ask for? Highly Recommended for homes and classrooms alike.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.