Blu-ray Review: “Earth”

Remember when DVD players were mostly a luxury for the home theater crowd, and pretty much anyone who bought one also picked up a copy of Twister to test his system’s limits? Well, it certainly isn’t an audio/CGI workout on that level, but Disney’s Earth is so stunningly gorgeous that it might be the first true “gotta have it” purchase for Blu-ray owners. Yes, it’s just another nature documentary — and in an age when you can switch on Discovery Channel HD at almost any hour and see something that takes your breath away — but…wow. Just wow.

Disney took some heat for the way Earth was assembled, and perhaps rightly so; it’s basically a boiled-down version of the BBC’s mammoth Planet Earth series, and though it uses some footage that wasn’t aired on the show, it’s still mostly reheated goods. But nobody wants to watch seven and a half hours of anything in a theater, and this is Disney — they’re aiming Earth at kids, whose attention spans are built for the film’s 90-minute length. This is actually one of the first projects from the studio’s new Disneynature banner, intended to expose the Disney demographic to the sights and sounds of the world around us, which is awfully hard to complain about. Even if you were enthralled by Planet Earth during its TV run, in other words, don’t be so quick to write off Earth as its shrimpier cousin; in any house with kids, it’s got a charm all its own.

As you might expect, the movie’s narrative structure is also condensed. Led by some typically stentorian narration from James Earl Jones, Earth follows the travels (and travails) of three animal families — polar bears, elephants, and humpback whales — as they migrate in search of food, water, and shelter. Given the film’s target audience, it should not surprise you that it’s been carefully edited to omit most of Mother Nature’s darker side; although we do see some heartbreaking stuff, and there is a fair amount of animal-on-animal violence, there isn’t much in the way of blood and guts, and a precocious four-year-old should be able to take all of it in stride — with parental supervision and discussion, of course.

For adults, Earth might prove to be a bit of a snoozer, but if you’ve invested in a 1080p screen, you’ll get a kick out of how unbelievably lovely these scenes are, and how they jump off the screen. It’s a film the whole family can enjoy — for different reasons, of course, but so what?

Like other recent Disney releases, the Earth Blu-ray comes bundled with a DVD version, but the extras don’t end there. You also get a series of picture-in-picture “filmmaker annotations,” in which the folks behind the scenes talk about how different scenes were shot, which footage was left behind, and more. There’s also a 45-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, as well as a nifty little wrinkle called “Living Menus,” which lets you use the menu (updated using your Blu-ray player’s wi-fi connection) to access additional text and video information about various hotspots around the globe. On the short list of Blu-ray discs that are worth your $25, Earth ranks near the top.

Purchase Earth at Amazon on Blu-ray or standard DVD.

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