The Blue Planet: Seas of Life --
Ocean World & Frozen Seas

produced by Alastair Fothergill
(Discovery Channel/BBC, 2001)

I thought I'd pop The Blue Planet into my DVD player while doing some work around the house. Ha. Once the film, made jointly by the Discovery Channel and the BBC, got underway, there wasn't much work going on.

From the first scene, featuring an elusive blue whale -- larger than any dinosaur, faster than some boats and surprisingly hard to capture on video -- I was riveted to the screen. This is, without a doubt, some of the most fascinating footage I have ever seen.

The Blue Planet is actually a series of videos focusing on the Earth's oceans. This is the first in the DVD set, containing two segments: Ocean World and Frozen Seas. I watched both episodes through and immediately made plans to order the rest of the series.

The camera work is astonishingly beautiful. Even something as simple as the anatomy of a wave breaker is stunning. A stirring soundtrack by George Fenton and excellent narration by British actor David Attenborough combines with those eye-popping visuals to make a package that's hard to tear your eyes away from for even a second.

This is not, however, for the squeamish. The Blue Planet is a documentary of the natural world, and the residents of that world sometimes eat each other. At times, it's relatively bloodless, even fun to watch as a huge, playful pack of dolphins flocks to feed on a massive school of migrating sardines. Other moments show the savage, brutal side of nature, such as the churning seas surrounding a pod of killer whales as they battle a protective mother gray whale for the life of a calf, or the polar bear striving to catch a one-ton beluga whale trapped in a small gap in the northern ice.

But playful or fierce, the animals whose lives depend on the world's oceans are fascinating to watch in this amazing production, which turns its lens on everything in the food chain from the tiniest plankton and krill to the fiercest sharks and gigantic whales. I sat utterly awestruck, convinced for a time that the images on the screen must be the product of a top special effects team. Whether above or below the water line, the photography is sterling and the action is vividly close; this is life we're seeing, not directed action in a controlled environment.

Ocean World focuses primarily on the "stars" of the sea world: whales, sharks, dolphins. Frozen Seas features fascinating creatures in the icy extremes to the north and south: penguins, leopard seals, polar bears. Both explore the amazing power, beauty and diversity of the world's oceans and their inhabitants.

The DVD also provides behind-the-scenes insights into the making of these features. While a documentary about the making of a documentary might sound like dry stuff, don't believe it for a second.

The series cost the BBC $10 million to produce over five years. It was worth every penny, every second spent. I, who have always been an advocate for preservation of the ocean's ecology, can honestly say I have a much better understanding now of exactly what is so worthy of preserving.

And hey, even if the environmental gets lost on you, you'll surely enjoy the pictures.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 20 July 2002

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