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.


mbp, Havertown PA said...

Your review leaves me even more upset that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia directed my son's school to cancel a trip to see this film. The reasons? Verbaim:
"The only mention of a 'God' is that of a pagan Greek Deity.
The Sun is portrayed as the giver of life, rather than God. Creation is a fluke of brute nature, rather than God's loving gift. Opinions and theories regarding ecology are presented as facts, but students may not be capable of noting the differences. Human qualities are attributed to animals, blurring the
distinction between human life and animal life. Please note, this movie should not be viewed during the school day nor sponsored by the school."
It is hard for me to believe that our church feels so insecure about the Faith which with we have collectively nurtured our children. We missed a wonderful teaching moment. Could we not have attributed the beauty shown in the film -- including the life-giving sun -- to the ultimate Giver of Life?

Julie D. said...

First of all, when you say, "verbatim" ... to what are you referring? My review says no such thing and I am very confused. I believe that the point you are making is the one I made in the review ... please explain.

mbp said...

Sorry I wasn't more clear. "Verbatim" refers to the letter the Archdiocese sent condemning the movie. Please notice the quotation marks in my earlier submission.

My comments are those that are not in quotes. I loved your review and I wish the Archdiocese had been able to look at the movie the same way.

Julie D. said...

OH! Gotcha ... the whole thing makes sense now. Please feel free to pass the review along to anyone who may have gotten the sort of bad guidance that your Archdiocese gave. :-)

mom2grace said...

Disney has cleverly kept the cirlce of life theme out of the marketing aspect of this movie. If I had known about the stalking and killing scenes I would never have taken my 10 year old daughter to this "Disney" movie. At one point she turned to me and asked, "when is it going to get happy?"...all through tears. My husband took her home, I stayed to see if the movie ended on a better note. Sadly, it was a huge diaappointment (last scene is a Great White with a seal hanging out of it's mouth). I like to make an informed decision about what we watch..hard to do when the marketing never mentions the killings.

Julie D. said...

True enough, which was exactly why I was sure to mention it in this review so parents could make informed decisions. I remember all too well when one daughter jumped off my lap during The Lion King when the father ws falling to his death, determined to march right out of the theater for that very reason.

On the other hand,this would be a good time possibly to begin a conversation with children. This is how life really works. We are far removed from it. I did like the way that the movie pointed out that for every life taken, there was a life that was able to go on. Which, of course, was the point of seeing the polar bear episode toward the end. Predators are just as worthy of life as their prey. It truly is survival of the fittest. In my own family, these were moments where I would commiserate with the kids, dry their tears, and then begin talking about the natural world. Our oldest girl who is the most sensitive and tender-hearted is now in her junior year of college studying Wildlife and Fisheries Management. Thanks to having a summer job at the vet and getting real life "circle of life" experience to add to our early conversations about how nature chooses who lives and who dies ... she is remarkably pragmatic about such things now ... and incredibly happy at working so closely with animals in spite of these realities.

mbp said...

I heard a wonderful interview on NPR (Terry Gross, Fresh Air) with the makers of the film. Interestingly, there are two different endings -- a Disney ending for the American version, which shows all the animals living "happily ever after" and a BBC ending for the English version. In the latter, I believe they said the footage ends with the polar bear cubs making their way in the world alone. They also talked about deciding where to cut the chase scenes and opted not to show any actual killing once the outcome was evident. They wanted the film to show the realities of animal life while keeping the film appropriate for the youngest possible audience. It's a great interview, probably available on the NPR website.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading reviews for this movie to decide whether or not to allow my son to go on a school trip to see it. The reviews and comments on the reviews have given me a good glimpse into the movie and any possible motivations or agendas of which we normally find in Disney films. So far this sounds like yet another social modifier for the young of today who's guardians are largely unavailable to give any guidance in these situations, to our children, if they can make sense of it at all. The fact that Disney regurgitated footage of past documentaries should be of some clue to viewers that this was not a properly motivated production. Hearing things like God's tool of evolution(which are two completely non-related religions), or another reviewers point of feeling guilty and getting the message that 'it's all human's fault', accompanied with the film's apparent pining to the 'youngest audience possible', force me to believe this film is just one more piece of Disney propaganda, that once again is confusing people's views; and to apparently further push the agenda that human kind is to blame for the earth warming up and cooling down. I've decided to take my 11 year old to see the movie as a family; so i can point out any untruths, conjectures and factually presented theories. Anything I don't have an answer for will bring us back to the net for further research. Thank you for your reviews and your comments, they have help considerably. I'm off to see if the regurgitation of footage has anything to do with recent laws regarding film making using wild-life. You don't have to look too far to see how Disney 'used' to make this type of movie, though beware if you have a weak stomach.

Julie D. said...

Ok, on the "evolution" part ... that was purely my reflection, not something that was ever mentioned in the movie. Evolution being science and God not being threatened by truth and certainly able to use a technique like evolution in any way He chose to do so.

As to the recycled footage, I believe that Disney made this in conjunction with the BBC and whoever makes Planet Earth, so it makes sense that they would have used footage already available. I, for one, have no problem with that as I do not have cable and probably would never rent the show DVDs.