Saturday, April 11, 2009

Movie review: Disney’s ‘earth’

Disneynature Earth Day release
is a sight to behold, but has
a badly over-written script
and droning narration

Cue the violins: It’s dinnertime

The movie is being hyped as the epic journeys of three families across the planet, but Disneynature’s “earth” – timed for theatrical release on Earth Day -- is really an update of the stuff that old Walt himself was pushing back in the 1950s when color television was being introduced as the latest in technology.

Inspiring, well-filmed stories of wild animals, with a droning narrator. Time-lapse photography of flowers blooming. We’ve seen that before, although I readily acknowledge the old Wonderful World of Disney productions are rudimentary stuff when compared to “earth.”

Trouble is, the new film for all its terrific spectacle has been weighed down with not only the droning narration of those TV days of yesteryear but an over-written script and jumbled story lines that the voice of James Earl Jones cannot save from mediocrity. (James Earl Jones? Very suave, very mellow, but he’s even disappeared from the Verizon ads!)

Now I have nothing against cute baby polar bears climbing out of their ice-hole den as spring comes to the Arctic, and playfully exploring the white wilderness while their mother tries to shepherd them toward the sea. So very, very cute, and so wonderfully filmed.

Meanwhile, daddy polar bear has gone far ahead in a desperate trek to find food as his world shrinks to global warming. By the time he finds something to eat, it’s a baby walrus whose colony keeps the big white predator at bay on an ice shelf. Poor papa polar bear is too weak to go on, and so the movie crew leaves him – returning us to the growing, thriving cubs who, we are assured, will carry on with his spirit in their hearts.

Yup. James Earl Jones really tells us that.

You’d like to think the photo crew up in the helicopter could have thrown a few fish to Papa Bear before leaving.

The other main story lines feature a herd of African elephants in their trek across a barren Kalahari Desert to reach the lush delta where water and food will be found, and mother-and-child humpback whales swimming thousands of miles to their Southern Ocean summer feeding waters.

But that wasn’t enough. As we are shuttled back and forth between the animal families to check on their progress, it seems there was some footage of enormously entertaining monkeys fording a river, so that gets thrown in, along with various other creatures. (I’ll allow, however, the giant shark rising out of the ocean devouring a whole seal in its horrifying maw.)

We also get to see in breathtaking time-lapse imagery entire forests change in color with the seasons. There are some terrific sunsets, too.

But the violins in the orchestral accompaniment are as unrelenting as the voice of Mr. Jones, and a solomn strings theme warns us when it appears an animal being chased down as prey is about to be killed and eaten by critters higher up the food chain. A pack of lions chases and jumps, biting, onto the back of an elephant fleeing in the near-darkness. (So that jungle cat-and-elephant circus act really is natural behavior!)

Cue the violins. Time for the Darwin theme. Elephant sushi is on the menu. The lions eat tonight.

I hate to criticize a movie that probably was conceived as well-meaning.

I cannot praise the photography enough. It is cutting-edge amazing. I kept wondering how the incredible scenes in “earth” could have been captured.

Patience was rewarded. Scenes showing how share the screen as the credits are rolling.

So don’t get up and leave too soon. You might miss some of the best moments that “earth” has to offer. You can also check them out at greater length online at http://disney.go.com/disneynature/earth, including the weeks of determined labor to capture with a high-speed camera that giant shark breaching the water with a seal in its teeth.

The photographers get four stars, and all the thumbs-up I can muster. It’s such a shame that the script and editing let them down.

13 comments:

Sasha said...

If your reviews are as ignorant as your grasp of geography then I'll take it this movie is the best you've ever seen. Also your opinion of James Earl Jones' voice is disappointing. For future reference and to keep you from sounding completely ignorant, polar bears DO NOT live in Antarctica!

David Ettlin said...

Thanks, Sasha, for pointing out the error in geography -- which has been corrected. The Real Muck regrets the stupid mistake, but not the opinion on the script and misuse of the talents of James Earl Jones. Hearing his constant voice throughout the movie, reading a sometimes stupid script, is just too much. He's a fine actor, has a great voice when properly used, but this isn't acting and isn't the right venue for his talents.

Guy Allen said...

This looks an awful like the BBC documentary of Planet Earth. In fact I'd bet that it is EXACTLY the same footage just mucked together into a feature length film.

porchpondering.com said...

I saw it last night. It looked like the same footage to me and to my three kids. I have to agree that for as much as I love James Earl Jones, the script and the narrator just didn't cut it. Watch the original footage with David Attenborough narrating. The Disney magic didn't add a thing to the BBCs already magical images.

Anonymous said...

This movie was horrible. I could sense a crock of garbage as soon as he said the line in the beginning with the polar bear cubs, and having to get to their father for food.

I understand that this movie was geared towards the kids, but, you take emotion and bull-roar over true education?

Disney, you made a horrible movie.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree. We took our daughter for her birthday and although most of the scenery was nothing short of breathtaking, the writing and narration was pure torture. I found myself fighting to keep my eyes open wondering if the movie would ever end. My only consolation for this complete waste of my time and money is that Disney has promised to plant a tree for every ticket sold opening week.

Anonymous said...

I thought this movie was awful. I understand the circle of life, however I don't want to watch baby animals become lunch on a 10 foot screen. And after the 4th killing in slow mo why don't they just name the movie the circle of life!!!
Hey disney how does BBCs sloppy seconds taste?

Anonymous said...

I thought this movie was awful. I understand the circle of life, however I don't want to watch baby animals become lunch on a 10 foot screen. And after the 4th killing in slow mo why don't they just name the movie the circle of life!!!
Hey disney how does BBCs sloppy seconds taste?

Anonymous said...

This was an awful remix of Planet Earth and other nature shows, with a voice-over that gives an even more anthropomorphic tale. It was a complete waste of money and an insult to the spectacular series Planet Earth.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that none of the killing scenes are placed in the advertisement, but at the same time I can understand why! They are so brutal, that even I, an adult could not keep my eyes open all the time. Overall, "Earth" was a very painful movie to watch. All I could think about at the end was the polar bear, and how the photographers and videographers left it to die. Couldn't someone have given it something? Aren't we all about saving the polar bears, and go as far as removing them from their home and placing them in equatorial locations?

yantski said...

I agree with the Anonymous person who said "I could sense a crock of garbage as soon as he said the line in the beginning with the polar bear cubs, and having to get to their father for food".

For one thing, if the little gaffers caught up with Papa Bear, he'd be having them for a snack. Another thing, Disney also made it sound as if Papa Bear was on his last legs as he was swimming about the ice floes. Truth of the matter is, he had just headed out from land (check out the DVD's Special Features). I know there are bears in dire straits in the Arctic, but lets get real, if they want to shout out for the plight of the Great White Bear, CATCH SOME AUTHENTIC FOOTAGE!

Anyway that's my rant.

Hats off to the BBC and all the work getting the footage. The Planet Earth series rocks! Real footage, real story real documentary.

For the real scoop on Polar Bears check out Polar Bears International

College Term Papers said...

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Heather A Posey said...

I think the narration could have been done better - and I thought the same thing about daddy polar bear - why not throw him some fish? It was mean to film him then let him starve.