I saw Earth, the debut film from Disney's new nature arm, last night and left the theater feeling stunned, inspired, and newly curious. To see such footage is nothing less than a privilege, and one can only imagine the extreme lengths to which the videographers and producers went to get such extraordinary shots.
Their brilliant use of extreme fast-forwards and slow-motions to tell nature's temporal tale invokes the true meaning of the word "awesome." The movie provides the only opportunity we'd ever have to see a great white shark (surely no one in the theater realized they were that massive) leap so dramatically out of the water to snap an unfortunate sea lion out of its life. A movement that must have taken only a second played out in what felt like at least a full minute - an utterly mesmerizing full minute - on the big screen.
Other gasp-inducing scenes include a pride of 30 lions hunting down an adult elephant, a cheetah in full pursuit of its prey (again, what must have taken only a flash is slowed down to a speed that captivates our human sensibilities), and a mother elephant leading her tiny, near-blinded son through African dust and drought to find their herd - and water, that most sacred of resources.
At other times, there was more laughter in the theater than had we been watching a riotous comedy: at baby polar bears' first steps, at their mother's joyful playfulness in the snow, at the outrageous lengths to which rainforest birds go to lure mates, at primates' awkwardly flamboyant moves as they navigate through waist-deep water, at baby birds trying their underdeveloped appendages at a first flight. James Earl Jones (whom you half-expect to announce at any moment, "This... is CNN") has a chuckling sound in his iconic voice when he calls those silly attempts at catching air "more like falling with style."
If it sounds like I'm gushing, that's because I am. If pressed to be a critic for a moment, I'd reluctantly say that the film's plotline is weakly strung and that some of the scenes and transitions seem to have been patched together disjointedly (though mother-child relationships are a pervasive theme). But really, that's not much of a concern when we have our planet's most glorious things to see in our face, larger than life, and in sharp, crisp color.
Watching everything animals have to endure to just survive calls to mind the exceedingly complex provisions we humans have made for ourselves to shield us from nature's very harsh realities. We no longer need to roam endlessly in search of food or water, hunt down prey, outrun predators, face the battering elements, or engage in life-and-death battles just to reproduce. And we didn't mean to wreak havoc by making life easier on ourselves - we were just doing what any species with our capabilities would. But we did cause damage, and we can see it clearly and direly at the end of Earth when a father polar bear struggles on rapidly melting ice to find solid land. His life is at stake, and though I won't give away the ending, I will say that it clearly connects what we've done to the world and how our fellow earthlings are suffering for it.