Monday, December 6, 2010

Greatest Thing of Anything: Planet Earth (the series, though the planet's pretty cool too)

If I lie on the ground, I probably take up about six square feet of space. The planet, meanwhile, takes up some 5.5 quadrillion square feet by the measurement I found. So I'm taking up maybe one 1.1 quadrillionth of the planet's surface area when I sunbathe, and a lot less when I'm on my feet. And this figure seems to be based more on the square footage if Earth were smooth and flat like a globe, not pitted with mountains and hills and caves and crevasses like it actually is. In short, Earth is friggin' big.

And there are four planets much bigger than Earth. The Universe is frickin' HUGE

In terms of globetrotting, I'm sure I haven't whittled down that percentage too much in the places I've been. I've got a few tracks over the United States and Europe, but that's only two continents of six and it excludes the North Pole as well (to the extent that the North Pole continues to exist). Even the most avid travelers have probably only seen a fraction of the planet. Though in some areas, I'm sure you can go to one place and be satisfied that you don't need to visit all that other square footage you can see.


I'd certainly like to travel more. I did a semester abroad in England, and before I went my aunt gave me a couple of guidebooks for London and Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) as a whole. Most places in the British Isles sound pretty amazing, but even zeroing in on this little slice of the planet and experiencing all it has to offer would seem to take a minimum of a full lifetime and a massive amount of cash. And then there are all those rainforests, caves, mountains, seas...what is one to do?

Why, get Planet Earth, of course.

Planet Earth is a 2006 BBC documentary, apparently the first documentary filmed in high definition and the most expensive one ever filmed. It's made up of 11 50-minute episodes, each focusing on a specific environment. Deep oceans, shallow seas, mountains,'s really quite amazing the range they decided to take their cameramen. Each episode typically features numerous locations which each common theme, with a focus on both the amazing landscapes and the incredible animals who make them their home. So yes, it's not a full representation of the planet, but I think we can do without a swooping aerial shots of the Los Angeles freeways. There are plenty of criminals and TV helicopters that give us ample opportunity to see them anyway.

Ahhhhh...the wonders of Earth

The footage is so seamless and well-done that you rarely stop to think how they got these majestic shots. The DVD takes care of that by appending every episode with a mini documentary within the documentary, showing just what devotion the teams had. Quite often it seems like they're staking out areas for weeks to get what in the end amounts to only minutes of footage. This includes a guy stalking a bird-of-paradise locale, a team racing to get terrifyingly beautiful shots of leaping sharks, a scuba diver quietly picking up footage of a piranha meal, and an amusing account of a pair of cameramen and their hot-air balloon's attraction for trees.

You've also got the classy, precise narration of David Attenborough. At the time the documentary came out, he'd been working for the BBC for 56 years. His work there has included quite a range of nature documentaries, so Planet Earth is right up his alley. His devotion to the world is apparent, though ironically he's been criticized by some environmentalists for focusing on the idyllic parts of the planet without giving any time to pollution and other problems (for the record, the DVD includes an extra disc of interviews devoted to this subject). As if that weren't enough, the same year the series came out a poll named him Britain's most trusted celebrity. For some reason, the Discovery Channel likes to switch narrators when things come across the pond and had Sigourney Weaver do the narration. I have nothing but respect for Sigourney Weaver, but I thought her expertise was more in the flora and fauna of other worlds.

And finally, footage from the series goes really well with MGMT.

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