April 2, 2007

What I’ve Learned So Far From Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth Special

The Planet Earth special currently running on the Discovery Channel is the result of five years of production, two thousand days of shooting, and several major breakthroughs in camera technology. It makes all prior nature documentaries look like Hi-8 movies of your dog doing that cute begging thing he does. Not only that, but since its subject is Earth as a whole, it renders all other nature documentaries narrow-minded and bigoted. Take that, March of the Penguins. For those who haven’t caught the first three episodes, here are the pertinent facts, as gleaned by me, a man who engages with nature almost every other day.

Sharks Lurk Everywhere, and Now They Can Fly

So, there’s this one slow-motion shot of a great white shark leaping literally a dozen feet out of the water while swallowing a seal whole. And since it’s in super slow-motion, just as the shark reaches the apex of his leap and hangs there, seeming to defy gravity, you can see him wink directly at the camera. Wise up, people: Sharks have learned to hover, and they’re just biding their time and taunting us before the final attack begins. We need to start training attack gorillas ASAP.

Nature Documentarians Can Film Anything. Anything.

There are shots in Planet Earth that put the raddest Michael Bay car flipsplosion to shame, shots that George Lucas’ entire team of CGI nerds would cream their jeans over if Lucasarts didn’t hire eunuchs exclusively to discourage employee turnover. By their very nature, these shots beg the question: how the hell did you film that?!

This is by no means a complete list, but the following are some of the sequences that spurred me to spit out my drink, stand and angrily yell at the TV, or punch my fiancée in the stomach in flabbergasted awe:


  • In one long tracking shot, the camera follows a worker ant as he helps dig out a collapsed tunnel, takes his turn impregnating the ant queen, defends himself to his jealous lover, goes out for drinks, and finally comes home wasted and despondent before starting an intentional gas leak in his kitchen.
  • A Polar Bear lopes through the Amazonian rainforest, pausing to sniff at a majestic saguaro cactus.
  • The entirety of a wildebeest herd’s migration is tracked from space, revealing for the first time that the constantly shifting shape forms out the answers to the New York Times crossword puzzles for the previous week.
  • A squid farts.
  • The never-before-filmed Siberian Snow Leopard wanders in front of a hidden camera, revealing to the world that the reclusive creature not only exists, but also has a naturally-forming zipper running down its back.
  • Time lapse photography captures the amazing beauty of a hyena chasing a gazelle through the Serengeti while Benny Hill music blares in the background.


Ripley, Ridden With Guilt After Driving an Alien Species to Extinction, has Taken to Campaigning for Environmental Causes

Ripley’s dulcet tones overlay the entirety of the series, forcing you to reimagine the tragic plight of the Aliens, sucked into vacuum and driven to death by the callous space-logging and urban space-sprawl of man. She may have seemed badass at the time, but now that children will never again watch in wonder as an Alien nuzzles its young in a dewy field or drips wet stuff all over everything, Ripley’s learned a sobering lesson about the circle of life, and the necessities of predators to help control the human population.

The Rainforest is So Verdant and Fertile That if You Try to Breathe There, You Are More Than Likely to Inhale a Rare Bird

In fact, that’s how most rare birds are discovered. I had always imagined intrepid naturalists slogging through the brush and shining floodlights up at the distant canopy in hopes of spotting a new type of bird or insect, but it turns out they just show up in khaki pants and look around. In fact, during Planet Earth’s filming, they discovered six new breeds of insect just by hitting record on a camera and hurling it into the jungle.

Wild Dogs Are Smarter Than Me

Wild dogs hunt in packs, using a comprehensive twelve-dog “net” system, in which four dogs are marked as drivers, three take the role of cincher, and the remainder are divided equally into flushers and regional district managers. Through a tag and release system, they keep regular tabs on herd sizes and movements of their prey, and generally take down a prey animal only if it fulfills certain criteria, such as being weakened, old, or feeble, or disseminating Communist or Utopian thought throughout the rest of the herd. In contrast, I usually put a can of chili into a heating machine that I assume works by magic, and later realize you are supposed to pour the contents of the can out first.

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