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
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
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
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.
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,
in pursuit of a mountain goat. I can't imagine slowly
down that land, much less running full bore, leaping over rocks and
gracefully on boulders. The migration of caribou is nearly as
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
animals travel together each year, and to see it up close and personal
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.
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.
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.
This set come with a nice DTS-HD 5.1 track in English and there are
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.
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
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.
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.