Review: New glorious nature documentary shouldn’t be missed
You think your day was rough? At least you didn’t have to outrace an army of slithering snakes on your first day. Or cross a swollen river filled with hungry predators. Or, despite being exhausted, brave huge Arctic waves to get home.
Such are the daily challenges shown with wondrous detail in the new BBC documentary “Earth: One Amazing Day,” which gets close enough to some remarkable critters that you can see fur twitch, nostrils flare and even hear them snore.
The Earth might be the film’s titular star but the documentary is really about the sun and how that star’s waxing and waning energy over 24 hours shapes life down here, from the warmth of morning to the shadows of night.
“We all have one thing in common: Our lives are driven by the rhythm of night and day,” says narrator Robert Redford, whose welcome voice guides viewers through danger and silliness alike.
The film — directed by Richard Dale, Peter Webber and Fan Lixin — comes a decade after the release of the film “Earth,” a re-cut version of the BBC series “Planet Earth” which took viewers from the North to the South poles. The filmmakers this time call it a whistle-stop exploration of the entire planet. We encourage you to hop aboard.
It starts at a misty dawn with a standard, crowd-pleasing character in nature documentaries — a deliriously cute panda cub, waking up. We then go to the African savannah to catch a serval hunting with huge leaps in the air and then to the Pacific to see armies of iguanas on rocks waiting for the sun’s warmth.
As the sun grows stronger, cameras capture another staple of such documentaries — the treacherous river crossing. This time a zebra foal makes the stomach-twisting attempt and it’s hard not to cheer when she finally makes it.
Other beasts featured are narwhals swimming through ice channels in footage that took a month to film, bears rubbing up on trees to playful music, and a pair of giraffes getting into a fight with their necks in a high noon challenge, like a pair of cowboys.
We see chinstrap penguins struggle with unforgiving cliffs to bring home food (and get greeted by their mate’s cute head bob) and sperm whales in the Indian Ocean taking a midday nap vertically, huge and ghostly. It’s remarkable stuff. This is a film that even makes watching bamboo grow via time-lapse fascinating.
The 100-strong camera crew took advantage of leaps in technology, including stronger batteries to help capture animals with more motion-detection devices, the ability to record 1,000 frames per second and improvements in low-light cinematography. There’s one astounding aerial sequence of a racket-tail hummingbird facing-off against a swarm of angry bees that is an absolute cinematic triumph.
The music by Alex Heffes (“The Last King of Scotland” and “Queen Of Katwe”) is a welcome accompaniment, whether it’s using a 120-piece orchestra and choir to deliver the majesty of the Arctic or channeling the playfulness of a Disney movie for a mouse sequence or even giving some moments a Michael Bay-like action treatment.
There’s precious little gore and the filmmakers have largely avoided having any furry hero who we’ve come to root for end up in something’s stomach. But conflict is never very far and some sequences — like sharks at night, the snakes versus baby iguanas on the Galapagos Islands (which fans may recognize as lifted from “Planet Earth II”), and the obligatory cheetah versus baby zebra — may rattle younger kids. Big predators come out when it’s cool, just so you know.
There’s also no politics — no mention of global warming or species destruction. Just a gentle reminder about the “fragile web that connects us” and that “the future of all life lies in our hands.” (For noted environmentalist Redford, holding his tongue must have been as hard as a field mouse outrunning a hungry lion.)
What’s not hard is admiring how rich and beautiful this documentary is, from the slow-mo water droplets to long tailed mayflies fluttering over a river in Hungary. As Redford says, humans have searched the heavens but there’s “nothing more amazing than what happens here, day after day.” This film proves it.
“Earth: One Amazing Day,” a BBC Earth Films release, is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 89 minutes. Four stars out of four.
MPAA definition of G: Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits