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Cinema in Focus: ‘Earth’

The beauty of creation is ingeniously photographed in this full-length film

2 Stars — Shallow

Disneynature’s Earth is a full-length version of the 2006 TV documentary series Planet Earth. Taking some of the most beautiful footage of the natural wonders of our planet, the film focuses on the animal world in its ironic, tragic and comedic nature. Although the violent deaths are removed, the hunter and the hunted are emphasized. When it comes to climate change, the political controversy on the cause is removed, but the film repeatedly emphasizes the effects of the change.

Narrated in America by James Earl Jones and in England by Patrick Stewart, the narration is interesting but shallow. Explaining the unique characteristics of our planet to sustain life with its exact orbit and tilt, the film avoids either the assumptions of evolutionary language or the wonders of theistic creation. The film also avoids the scientific explanations often included in a documentary studying life on our planet. The end result is a rather bland film with moments of exquisite beauty.

The movement of the film follows a calendar year. Starting the first of January in the Arctic, where winter has frozen water and land, the film progresses throughout the year and the seasons into an Antarctic summer and back for fall. But this simple movement is not rigid and the time photography showing all four seasons of a deciduous forest, or the thawing and freezing of the Antarctic in a moment, are engaging.

In this film we share the life of a polar bear family, with the father succumbing in solitude while his cubs continue his genetic life; a herd of elephants that struggles across the wastelands of Africa on a migration to the fertile delta; a humpback whale and her calf as they travel from the tropical waters of the calf’s birth to the frigid waters of their winter home; a tropical bird with its flamboyant but ineffectual mating dance; a pride of lions joining together to bring down a grown elephant; and much more.

The only creature painstakingly avoided in the film are human beings. Only in the credits do we see the ingenuity of the human photographers who create this beautiful film. It is one of the best parts of the film.

As a remake of the TV series, many of the scenes are familiar, but the overall beauty of our planet is incontestable. Earth is a tribute to this beautiful creation in which we live.

Discussion:

» The focus on the father polar bear’s plight seems contrived. Do you agree? If it is contrived, is it all right for a documentary maker to do so?

» One of the comic scenes in the film occurs when the filmmakers use a jazz base line to emphasize the comic way the monkeys walk through water. What do you think makes that scene effective?

» When the hunters kill the hunted, the narration remarks that modern life is far removed from this “circle of life.” Do you believe this distance from the violence of the natural world has been helpful or hurtful to humanity as a whole?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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