Usually it’s skateboarders misjudging jumps like this.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/22/2009
Directors: Alastair Fothergill & Mark Linfield
Narrator: James Earl Jones

Culled from footage not used in the Planet Earth mini-series broadcast on the Discovery Channel, “Earth” is arriving in theaters behind a huge push for saving the planet and going green.

Intrepid nature documentarians roamed the globe for hours on end to collect some of the most amazing footage regarding our little blue planet and its non-human inhabitants. As a bit of an addict to the Discovery channel’s numerous themed weeks (Shark Week in particular), I fully appreciate all of the impressive work the camera crews performed. Some of the shots are so imposing that even though I did not see the IMAX version, vertigo still snuck up on me once in a while.

It’s too bad that their efforts and hours of video are subjected to a contrived script more worthy of bad children’s books than feature-length documentaries. Melodrama reigns supreme at times and one begins to wonder if the narration is different for other audiences and if Patrick Stewart (who narrates the UK version) brought a different sensibility than James Earl Jones does for the U.S. Not that Darth Vader does a bad job, far from it. However, the lines he’s given to spew are so sentimental and ascribe such a human dynamic to animal species that it almost feels offensive to the very creatures we’re there to enjoy.

Therein lies my biggest problem with this project. Why is it being done? The mini-series already gave audiences hours of breathtaking and first-time nature videos – from capturing mass migrations, to showing seasonal changes and predator-prey interactions. In fact, some of the shots in this feature film are the same exact ones used already on the small screen.

Then there’s the attempt to weave a story into the production. I realize that the goal was to touch upon a few of the many different experiences animals take part in every year. This thread is brought about early as Jones so eloquently lets us know the film will cover nature over the course of a year. It begins with a polar bear mother and her two cubs. Then the focus shifts to the increasing issues they face in light of global warming speeding up the spring thaw. Then it shifts to the number of trees that ring the northern latitudes. Then it shifts to animal migrations. Then it shifts to a humpback whale and her calf. And then … And then … And then … (I finally got a “Dude, Where’s My Car?” reference in … why am I proud?).

Not deciding if the film should be about more intimate familial issues or mass migration and survival, it created a disjointed view that only extended the length of time it felt like the production lasted. I realize that nature documentaries aren’t going to zip by with the speed and movement of an action film but they also shouldn’t feel as long as a junior high biology video.

Another aspect that tended to distract more than entertain was the score. Rather than complimenting the imagery, it was usually a competition … and the animals lost. It’s as if french horns were just discovered and there was some union quota for volume over synergy.

The obvious comparison to be made (and it’s done even in the trailers) is to “March of the Penguins“. While I wasn’t a fan of that nature documentary either, at least its story was consistent. With “Earth”, if you happen to leave the theater, chances are you’ll come back to a whole other nature film. And sure, the filmmakers attempt to tie it all together in the end and make circular connections but it all feels as forced as a sixth grade five-paragraph essay.

If you’ve got young kids, the overlying issues won’t disturb them and this will be a good way to occupy their time with something far more wholesome than whatever dreck is passing for kids animation these days (a few of the little ones were still running around the theater after about an hour because it’s hard for this genre to keep kids in their seat). There is some contention that the film shouldn’t warrant a G rating because of a number of scenes where animals attack one another. The filmmakers were careful to keep blood and gore off the table but a lot of the violence/abandonment is implied so keep that in mind when it comes to your own offspring.

However, the better choice for adults is to watch the Discover channel’s mini-series, either via re-runs in glorious HD or on DVD. Thanks to its beautiful imagery, “Earth” squeaks by with a 3 out of 5 but it is a boiled down version of its long-form parent and while I’m sure this will make its financiers a pretty profit, I’d like to hope that all of the crew get a nice cut because it’s their hard work that made all of the impressive footage possible (no matter how badly mashed together it’s become for mass audiences).

And if you should still decide to check this one out, make sure to stay through the credits. It features numerous clips of the camera crews capturing the footage and is the best portion of the entire experience.