Judge Erich Asperschlager thinks the Earth needs to strengthen its core.
"What do we really know about the planet we live on—this giant spinning ball of rock?"
You can keep your alien invasions and big budget explode-a-thons. For my money, the best use for CGI is to make educational programming more interesting. Dinosaurs, outer space, and ancient civilizations have all been brought to life through computer-generated animation—and I'm a complete sucker for it. Now, The Discovery Channel uses computer magic to take us someplace we'd never otherwise be able to go, even though it exists right under our feet. Inside Planet Earth is an in-depth look at the mostly invisible forces that shape life on this planet from the inside out.
Starting at the crust, Inside Planet Earth leads viewers on a journey down through the fiery depths of the mantle to the Earth's mysterious core. It mixes interviews with scientists and footage of some of the Earth's most remarkable visible landscapes with computer animation that brings to life recent geologic discoveries to paint a compelling picture of a world in flux.
The composition of the Earth's interior is more dynamic and less clearly defined than most of us learned in junior high. The shifting of the tectonic plates—the cause of earthquakes—is nothing compared to the constant movement of the superheated solid-yet-flowing rock called magma. This layer, often thought of as a glowing red band of liquid, is far more complex than what little we see of it erupting from volcanoes that exist where tectonic plates collide. Down in this hot, pressurized cauldron of rock, most of our precious stones are formed—diamonds mined from the crust were actually created deep inside the Earth, and then carried up on volcanic explosions millions of years ago.
Inside Planet Earth is the story of the constant upheaval that not only shapes our world, but allows us to live on it. The magnetic field created by the moving liquid metal inside the Earth's core not only traps oxygen in our atmosphere, but protects us from the sun's dangerous solar radiation. Without it, Earth could not sustain life.
For as much as Inside Planet Earth is interested in educating viewers, it also seems bent on terrifying them. The special is filled with all the ways that life as we know it could come to an untimely end. Besides the "long overdue" mega earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that threaten to maim, burn, and block out the sun—I'll never look at Yellowstone the same way again—there's the imminent threat of the Earth's core reversing polarity. The magnetic field is already weakening in a band above South America. If such a reversal were to happen, the magnetic field would disappear for months, during which we'd be pummeled unchecked by solar radiation, knocking out all electricity and causing untold damage to the world's population. That could happen within 1,500 years. Even if we survive that, about 4.5 billion years from now the Earth's core will solidify—in effect "freezing" solid—and our planet will no longer be able to support life. As if I really needed that image in my head. Thanks to Inside Planet Earth I no longer check under my bed for the Boogeyman; I check for Aurora Borealis.
At the 84 minutes it shows on the packaging, Inside Planet Earth is fascinating and fun for the whole family, in an impending apocalypse sort of way. Apparently the Discovery Channel didn't think it was enough for the DVD, though, because this disc also includes the bonus feature Amazing Earth, which clocks in at 94 minutes—bringing the total DVD runtime to just shy of three hours. That bang for your educational buck is impressive, despite Amazing Earth covering a lot of the same ground (literally) as Inside Planet Earth.
Narrated by Patrick Stewart, Amazing Earth focuses on how the forces at work deep inside the Earth affect what happens at the surface—especially how those forces, both creative and destructive, affect humans. It is filled with stories of how major geologic events changed the course of history, from the tectonic smash-up that created the Himalayas (and may have caused mass extinction around the world), to how the people of Iceland adapt to its constantly changing landscape. Perhaps the most haunting here story is the 1995 volcanic eruption that destroyed much of the Caribbean island of Montserrat, turning its capital city into an ash-covered wasteland and forcing most of its inhabitants to move off-island. It's a grim reminder of how little control people have when nature decides to unleash its fury.
Both Inside Planet Earth and Amazing Earth are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. The footage of bubbling volcanos, remote landscapes, and subterranean caverns is stunning. The CGI is pretty impressive, too. Inside Planet Earth's effects are more seamless than some of the proto-CGI of Amazing Earth, but it doesn't detract from the experience. The sound is stereo only, no surround. It's a little disappointing, but considering how much content they packed on one disc, it's hard to complain.
Bonus material consists of five deleted or extended sequences from the main feature. They run about eight minutes in total. The best, by far, is the story of Col. Joe Kittinger, who ballooned to the outer edge of the Earth's atmosphere, then parachuted the 19 miles back to Earth.
The only real complaint I can level against the Discovery Channel is the name they chose for this feature. I wasn't the only person I talked to who thought this was a making-of special for the series Planet Earth. Although the title is perfectly suited to the content within, I have to believe at least a few people hoped to trade off of the success of the BBC hit.
Geology may not sound exciting, but Inside Planet Earth brings the rock we live on to life—then tells us all the ways we could die on it. Frankly, after hearing about the Earth burning to a crisp when the sun finally dies, global warming doesn't sound all that bad.
You expect me to send the Earth to jail? Not guilty.
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