Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movie Review: Earth

"Earth" is an exquisitely photographed and presented film that promises to take us with three animal families through a year. However, this is simply the easiest way that they can market the movie. Actually, the movie does exactly what the name promises, which is to celebrate the planet Earth in its own right. Beautifully narrated by James Earl Jones, we are introduced to the movie with the information that Earth's tilt toward the sun is integral to the planet as we know it. This is basic information for many of us but it sets the tone for our appreciation of the unique life forms with which we share the planet. As well, it sets up the fact that Earth itself is the star of the movie. We see how planetary cycles of water, weather, and sun work together and how they in turn have shaped the forces that living creatures struggle with daily for existence.

Interspersed with fantastic shots of Earth's vistas we are taken into a more personal connection through the many featured scenarios of living creatures in the circle of life. Although there are three main animal families that we watch on a migration adventure, there are numerous sequences where we are treated to many other animals in humorous, dramatic, or threatening circumstances. We are reminded that every day there is so much more to life than we experience in our civilized routines. Especially memorable were the intense night scenes of the elephant herd versus the pride of lions whose roars seemed to split the night. I was also impressed with the scenes of aquatic predators pursuing prey. It never occurred to me that watching a school of sailfish (the cheetahs of the ocean) hunt smaller fish in their darting, elusive school could be as riveting as watching wolves hunt caribou ... and eerily echoing of similar movements. I also will never forget the shots of the great white shark with part of a seal dangling from its mouth like a toothpick.

Amazing in themselves were the many shots of Earth from a great distance in the sky. This allowed us to see changes in desert regions of Africa after the rainy season. Shots of migrating herds taken from such a height that one could see the hundreds and hundreds of animals all wandering in the same direction in a loose formation. In fact the many views from overhead were unusual and gave us a different perspective on the progressions of rivers to waterfalls. Time lapse photography was used frequently to great effect so we could see the overall results of seasons, rain, or other natural phenomenon.

At about an hour and a half in length I never found the movie to lag and was always captivated by the remarkable photography and subject matter. Although there are tense moments and clear victories by predators there is never a violent coup de grace or bloody tearing at a corpse. Shots are always cut short just after we understand what happened. This makes it appropriate for younger children as long as they don't mind the tension of hunting scenes. The music, which is beautiful and grandly recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic, was occasionally over the top in setting a sentimental scene. As well, I found the infrequent comic scenes a bit over the top musically. However, from the response of the audience, this was more a matter of personal taste than anything. I did like the fact that there wasn't any attempt to find reasons for planetary warming or other conditions that might make life on a changing planet riskier for animals. The statement that the planet is warming was repeated a tiring number of times when talking about polar bears, however, there was no guilt-trip put on humans because of it. Sometimes a clarifying comment would have been welcomed, such as pointing out that predators miss their prey most of the time or that most animals in the wild live large parts of their lives hungry. This would have helped cut through a bit of the sentimentality present, but it was not really a big factor in the movie.

I saw this with my mother, who also thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Her one serious objection is one that I shared. The narration continually called the animals "Mom" and "Dad" when looking at family groups. This anthropomorphizing was jarring. However, I must point out that it was a far cry from the shameless example found in March of the Penguins and actually was a fairly minor point.

I also was occasionally left wondering, "just how on earth did they get these shots?" Naturally, I was very pleased when we are shown some footage from the photographers' experiences during the movie credits at the end.

For any person of faith this movie also serves to make us appreciate even more the diversity, creativity, and beauty that God has given us in this beautiful planet. Marveling at the scenery and incredible living creatures I saw, I was again moved to thanks that God's ways are different from ours. We are just not imaginative enough to come up with the marvels that are all around us. I was left at one point thinking just how unimaginable was the mind of God to be able to come up with evolution as a developmental tool that still left life so free to find its way to the incredible variety that was displayed in this movie. In fact, the ingenuity, curiosity, and appreciation of nature that we saw in the clips of photographers during the credits also left me with an appreciation of the human spirit.

"Earth" opens on Earth Day. As has been noted before, I'm not a fan of Earth Day as it tends to bring out the least attractive features of many environmentalists in treating it as a religious day of observance. However, I'm a big fan of Earth itself and watching this movie will remind you just what an incredible home we have. It lends itself to appreciation on many levels and I encourage you to go.

Highly recommended.

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