From the team that created Planet Earth comes a new, seven-part documentary called Frozen Planet. This is the UK Version of the series, narrated by David Attenborough (not Alec Baldwin, as with the version that aired on the Discovery Channel), and captures life at both poles of the Earth, hoping to immortalize these environments on film before climate change destroys them forever.
The first episode of Frozen Planet is an introduction, giving an overall glimpse of the environment. This is followed by four parts covering each of the four calendar seasons. Part six looks at mankind’s interaction in these distant regions, where few dare to tread. Each looks at the dizzying, often seemingly barren, landscapes, as well as how life can carve a niche anywhere. For most people who will never venture into a climate so extreme, it’s a rich glimpse into a completely alien place.
Many types of animals make their home in this frigid area of the planet. From polar bears to penguins to orcas, Frozen Planet shows us just how they accomplish the monumental task of surviving, which to them is just their way of life. Arctic wolves, albatrosses, eider ducks, and fur seals are just some of the other life forms teeming in this series.
The seventh hour of Frozen Planet is quite controversial, in that it deals with global warming. Originally, Discovery wasn’t even going to air this part in the U.S., because of the politicized nature of the debate, despite the scientific evidence. However, cooler (sic) heads prevailed, and “On Thin Ice,” as it is called, is airing in the States (with Attenborough’s narration), as it was in Britain.
Much of the filming of Frozen Planet is accomplished using a sophisticated, long-distance capture technology so that the animals are not disturbed. While a polar bear birth is filmed in a zoo, almost everything else is authentic to the region. By keeping far away in distance, viewers are treated to behavior untainted by human intruders. It is a rare and gratifying series of sequences, that should delight and entertain. And sure, there is death, like in any nature special, but Frozen Planet is pretty family-friendly, overall.
Some of most impressive sequences? A stalactite growing down, freezing alive any organism that gets in its path. A pod of orcas hunt a seal with planning and precision. The ice sheet melts off of Greenland in the spring. By using time-lapse and slow motion footage, drama is added to events that would otherwise be hard to understand the majesty of.
On bonus features, there are plenty. If one does not want to be distracted by the narration, and instead allow the images to mostly speak for themselves, a music-only audio track can be played. As with other BBC Earth releases, a ‘Freeze Frame’ option appears with each episode, providing about 10 minutes of behind the scenes glimpses of a particular shot or sequence. There are also about an hour and a half of shorts, which are each only a couple of minutes in length, that let viewers in on some of the filming techniques and challenges.
A twenty minute featurette called “Science at the End of the Earth” reveals who the scientists are that live at the South Pole for long stretches of time, and what they do there. It takes a very special person to thrive in this environment, and they are profiled nicely.
“Frozen Planet: The Epic Journey” is virtually useless, unless one does not wish to watch the entire series. Basically, it’s a best of, running an hour in length, that brings together some of the most amazing moments from the seven episodes. The problem is, though, there doesn’t seem to be anything new added in, so it’s tiresome to watch after already sitting through Frozen Planet. Maybe it could be used to entice some friends who aren’t sure they want to watch the whole show? But then, if they are enticed, that makes the watching of the series less exciting. Or it could serve as a quickie rewatch years later, when one does not have seven hours to devote, but would like to relive this spectacular show.
As with other specials in the BBC Earth series, it is impossible to give a short critique of the picture and sound quality that will encompass this set in full. Many different cameras are used, mostly high definition ones, but even within that subset, picture clarity varies. Sometimes bands of color are on the screen. Sometimes blacks are not as rich as they might be. The same holds true for sound, where studio-recorded pieces are always clear, but the natural sounds of the world sometimes aren’t exactly how one would want them.
However, Frozen Planet might just be better than previous releases. It appears that much effort has been spent cleaning up images and getting the sound mix just right, striking a good balance between music, ambient noise, and the narration. Perhaps the use of digital HD cameras has allowed for better matching, overall, but it looks like there has also been lots of post production work. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close to it as one will find for a series of this type.
Buying this on Blu-ray is a must, because that’s where the clearest presentation can be found. Not every scene will be perfect, but many will leave viewers stunned with the amount of visual and auditory detail captured. The makers of these films are experts, and have learned how to best satisfy the masses. This is a stunning set that should definitely be experienced.
Another triumph for BBC Earth! Buy Frozen Planet on Blu-ray, available now.