Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill
Disney's "Earth," the first feature film in its brand new indie film banner Disneynature, is a visually stunning yet surprisingly emotionless film that is still worth the price of admission solely on the basis of its awe-inspiring photography and stunning imagery.
Narrated by actor James Earl Jones in a way that begins to feel a touch over-dramatized by film's end , "Earth" may very well offer the most clear and pristine images I've seen on the big screen this year. There's nary a screen blip, glitch or interruption to be found. From coast to coast and around the world, co-directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill have managed to assemble a stunning portrait of the world's animal kingdom, plant kingdom and their undeniable relationship with one another.
It feels as if, perhaps, Linfield and Fothergill found themselves stuck between making an important film about the environment and coming up with a box-office friendly "March of the Penguins" style film.
The end result is that the film's social consciousness barely skims the surface, while the film's various animal scenes often come off with a strange detachment and ill-placed humor.
For example, in one scene a baby elephant is near death as it follows its mother across a barren desert. Disoriented, the elephant walks into its mother's behind. Audiences at the sneak preview I attended roared with laughter.
Let's see. An elephant is near death...hasn't had a drink of water for hundreds of miles...barely able to stand, the elephant stumbles into its mother.
I may be crazy, but I just don't find this funny. Sadly, watching it play out on screen I completely understood why the audience found it funny.
Scenes just like this one occur throughout the film, and each time what felt like inappropriate laughter followed. Perhaps, Linfield and Fothergill simply try to achieve too much. After all, we have intertwining stories of polar bears, whales and elephants along with mini-stories involving wolves, plants, birds, leopards and gazelles. While the scenes themselves are enchanting and beautiful and even mesmerizing, they are surprisingly devoid of any emotional resonance.
In fact, it is not until "Earth" is working its way through closing credits that an emotional connection is established and it is, surprisingly, a connection that involves humans. The closing credits include several scenes that help to explain the tremendous efforts the filmmakers went to in order to capture the awesome images in "Earth." When one sees them holding steady face-to-face with polar bears, a great white shark and much more...well, suddenly, the film's power is magnified greatly.
Despite an overwhelming sense that "Earth" isn't nearly the film it is intended to be, it IS a stunningly photographed and jaw-droppingly beautiful film to behold. It is impossible to leave the theatre without a deeper appreciation for the world in which we live and the seemingly endless forms of life that surround us.
Kudos to Disney for beginning a new journey with Disneynature. Here's hoping that future films, including 2010's "Oceans" and "Naked Beauty" in 2011, find a more effective way to not only show us the beauty of this world but a way to truly make us feel it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic