BBC Video // 2007 // 230 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // August 4th, 2008
The story of our world.
Originally aired on BBC Two in Great Britain as Earth: The Power of the Planet, this series of documentaries found its way to the States on National Geographic's standard and high definition channels as Earth: The Biography. The series follows Plymouth University geology lecturer Iain Stewart on a step-by-step tour of what makes the planet Earth tick. He presents our planet as a hearty, self-sustaining body, while also emphasizing the astoundingly complex and delicate web of geological conditions necessary to sustain life.
Earth: The Biography is comprised of five 45-minute episodes presented on two single-layered (25 GB) Blu-ray discs:
‥ "Rare Planet"
And that's it. There are no extras.
Young, adventurous, and passionate about his subject matter, Stewart (who has a background in acting going back to his childhood) comes off as the Indiana Jones of geology professors. His enthusiastic rapid fire delivery (in a heavy Scottish brogue) of fascinating geological information is tempered with eye-popping high adventure. He rappels into a volcano, cave dives, is lowered down the side of a glacier, and rides to the stratosphere in an old jet in order to film professional sky surfers. It's all entertaining stuff that keeps the show moving at a breakneck pace. More than a gimmick (for the most part), these adventure sequences take viewers into the heart of our planet's diverse geological features, rather than presenting it all from a safe, clean, and self-consciously academic distance.
The episode titles are slightly deceiving because the primary subjects tend to lead to examinations of related geological features. The "Volcanoes" episode, for instance, includes a fairly detailed look at erosion, explaining in layman's terms how the interplay between water and volcanoes is responsible for shaping Earth's topography. Taken as a whole, Earth: The Biography isn't an exhaustive geological survey (is such a thing even possible?), but it delivers a rich and engrossing introduction to our planet's major features.
Comparisons of Earth: The Biography to the genre redefining series Planet Earth are probably inevitable, but unfair. Planet Earth is grander in scope, less conventional, and more visually dazzling. It was also produced on a significantly higher budget. Earth: The Biography is no slouch, though. It offers all of the incredibly sharp detail and vibrant colors that we've come to expect of nature shows shot on high definition video. For those who enjoyed the show during its broadcast on National Geographic Channel HD, its presentation on Blu-ray is even better. Detail is sharp as ever, but colors are bolder and more fully saturated. Digital artifacts are almost non-existent. The show relies on some artfully rendered computer-generated animation to illustrate what Stewart is talking about (I especially liked the ones showing the movements of the Earth's crust). The animation isn't quite of the same quality as the nature footage, but it still looks great. The transfer is 1080i in the VC-1 codec.
The DTS-HD 5.1 surround audio is a fine presentation of a clean, straight-forward source. The mix is significantly louder than the most Blu-rays, though, so be prepared to have your eyebrows blown off if you forget to adjust your amplifier before pressing Play.
The absence of any extras is only a minor disappointment since the show itself offers 230 minutes of visual and intellectual delights. Given Stewart's heavy accent, though, Yanks may be bummed at the omission of a subtitle track.
Truth be told, if you're looking for great nature documentaries in high definition, I recommend that you pick up Planet Earth and Blue Planet first. If you already own those titles, Earth: The Biography should be next on your list. It's both intelligent and easy on the eyes. And Dr. Iain Stewart is that rarest kind of teacher whose enthusiasm for his field of study is contagious.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 230 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official National Geographic Channel Site
* Official BBC Site
* Iain Stewart's Plymouth University Faculty Page