DVD Earth Day: The BBC Natural History Collection, Sharkwater

Tuesday is Earth Day, so many of us will be focusing more than usual on the natural world around us. All those other species that live (however marginally sometimes) on the planet with us, the creatures -- some familiar, some seriously bizarro -- down there in the oceans, the birds over our heads, and even good ol' home planet Earth itself will be receiving some well-deserved attention. Of course, along with that focus comes the reminder that "every day is Earth Day" -- after all, it's not as if Earth and all the life on it, beneath it, and above it deserve our attention only at regularly scheduled times like an NPR pledge drive. While Earth Day is a successful and worthy X on the calendar, we do need to remember to spread the attention -- and the thoughtful understanding that comes with it -- throughout the days ahead.

Warner Home Video has provided us with just such a reminder, and I can testify that it's superb. Distributed by Warner, it's BBC Video's hefty boxed set The BBC Natural History Collection. This 17-disc library in a box gathers four BBC documentary series that explore our world with enthusiasm, intelligence, spellbinding photography, and the internationally recognized face and voice of David Attenborough.

One of the world's most acclaimed broadcasters and naturalists for over 50 years, Attenborough's pioneering natural history specials have entertained and enthralled us with the humor, insight, authority, and magnificently filmed spontaneous drama that have raised the bar for nature documentaries every since. Estimates say that his groundbreaking 13-part 1979 series Life on Earth was watched by some 500 million people worldwide.

Since then, Attenborough has continued to show nature at its most astounding and dazzling. The BBC Natural History Collection bundles some of Attenborough's more recent hit series into a single package that can keep on reminding us of Earth Day's message once this week is done and gone. And when it comes to quality productions, it's hard to imagine a higher bang-to-buck ratio that what you get here:

Warner/BBC's 'Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series' DVD boxPlanet Earth: The Complete BBC Series (2007)

It's just the finest, most entertaining, most jaw-dropping nature/wildlife series ever produced. These five discs hold 11 50-minute episodes plus, on the fifth disc, The Future: three 60-minute films highlighting the conservation issues surrounding some of the featured species and environments.

With an unprecedented production budget of $25 million, Planet Earth delivers nothing less than the epic story of life on Earth. Five years in production, over 2,000 days in the field, using 40 cameramen filming across 200 locations, and shot entirely in high-definition, this ultimate portrait of our planet is a stunning television experience that captures rare action, impossible locations and intimate moments with our planet's best-loved, wildest and most elusive creatures. From the highest mountains to the deepest rivers, this blockbuster series takes you on an unforgettable journey through the daily struggle for survival in Earth's most extreme habitats. Planet Earth takes you to places you have never seen before, to experience sights and sounds you may never experience anywhere else.

When Planet Earth aired in the United States for the first time, Attenborough's narration was replaced by Sigourney Weaver's. But this DVD version restores Attenborough's original narration.

"Our planet is still full of wonders," Attenborough tells us. "As we explore them, so we gain not only understanding, but power. It's not just the future of the whale that today lies in our hands: it's the survival of the natural world in all parts of the living planet. We can now destroy or we can cherish. The choice is ours."

Warner/BBC 'The Blue Planet' DVD box artThe Blue Planet: Seas of Life (5-disc Special Edition) (2001)


Before creating the monumental Planet Earth, producer Alastair Fothergill and his team from the BBC put together one of the most breathtaking explorations of the world's oceans ever assembled, The Blue Planet: Seas of Life. Also written and narrated by Attenborough, this exploration of the marine world chronicles the mysteries of the deep in ways never before imagined. Described as "the first ever comprehensive series on the natural history of the world's oceans," each of these eight 50-minute episodes examines a different aspect of marine life. The underwater photography includes creatures and behavior that had previously never been filmed. This series won multiple Emmy and BAFTA TV awards for its music and cinematography.

In this five-disc set, the fifth disc holds all-new bonus material not included in the original DVD release, such as Dive to Shark Volcano (about sharks living in undersea volcanoes), Amazon Abyss (the creatures that live at the bottom of the Amazon River), behind-the-scenes footage, interviews (series producer Alastair Fothergill, cameraman Doug Allen, researcher Penny Allen), and more.

"Our planet is a blue planet: over seventy percent of it is covered by the sea. The Pacific Ocean alone covers half the globe. You can fly across it non-stop for twelve hours and still see nothing more than a speck of land. This series will reveal the complete natural history of our ocean planet, from its familiar shores to the mysteries of its deepest seas." -- David Attenborough, from episode one

Warner/BBC 'The Life of Mammals' DVD box artThe Life of Mammals (2002)

A study of the evolution and habits of the various mammal species, each of these ten episodes introduces us to the most diverse group of animals ever to live on Earth, from the smallest (the two-inch pygmy shrew) to the largest (the blue whale); from the slowest (the sloth) to the swiftest (the cheetah); from the least attractive (the naked mole rat) to the most irresistible (a human baby). The Life of Mammals is the story of 4,000 species that have outlived the dinosaurs and conquered the farthest places on earth. With bodies kept warm by thick coats of fur and their developing young protected and nourished within their bodies, they have managed to colonize every part of the globe, dry or wet, hot or cold. Their adaptations for finding food have also had a profound effect on the way they move, socialize, mate and breed.

"Warm-bloodedness is one of the key factors that have enabled mammals to conquer the Earth, and to develop the most complex bodies in the animal kingdom. In this series, we will travel the world to discover just how varied and how astonishing mammals are." -- David Attenborough, from episode one

Warner/BBC 'The Life of Birds' DVD box artThe Life of Birds (1998)

The definitive 10-part series on the most colorful, popular and perfectly adapted creatures on earth, The Life of Birds traverses the globe, covering 42 countries and examining over 300 different species. Calling upon the immense skills of many of the world's top wildlife cameramen and women, and pushing filming technology to the limits, new behavior is brought to the screen in staggering detail. Infra-red cameras find oilbirds deep in pitch black caves. Ultra-slow-motion film unravels the complexities of bird flight and ultraviolet cameras reveal the world from a bird's point of view.

"Birds were flying from continent to continent long before we were. They reached the coldest place on Earth, Antarctica, long before we did. They can survive in the hottest of deserts. Some can remain on the wing for years at a time. They can girdle the globe. Now, we have taken over the earth and the sea and the sky, but with skill and care and knowledge, we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety -- if we want to. And surely, we should." -- David Attenborough, in closing






Waner DVD 'Sharkwater' box artAlso from Warner on DVD and Blu-ray is Sharkwater (Film.com), the pretty damn awesome 2006 Canadian documentary on sharks: how they live, how they're portrayed by the media, and how they're treated today.

Whether it's the images in Jaws or the sensationalized news stories of shark attacks, sharks have long been stigmatized as bloodthirsty and man-eating monsters. Sharkwater, a visually spectacular and moving documentary, debunks that stereotype, revealing the reality that sharks -- pillars in the evolution of the seas -- are being dangerously over-fished and brutally slaughtered. Sharkwater made its US theatrical debut in November 2007.

Writer-director-star Rob Stewart has had a life-long fascination with sharks. Just age 22 when he started and driven by a passion for the magnificent creatures, Stewart began filming Sharkwater as an underwater adventure, but it became a journey to preserve the balance of life on Earth.

Filmed on high-definition video, Sharkwater showcases gorgeous underwater footage, taking the viewer into the shark-rich waters of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Stewart exposes the exploitation and corruption surrounding the world's shark populations, and shows that human greed could easily destroy their population within our lifetimes. But the exposé came with a price. During filming, Stewart and his crew faced pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, and attempted murder charges, and Stewart himself was threatened with not one, but several life-threatening illnesses. Stewart's mission to save the world's sharks quickly turned into a fight for his life, and ultimately for that of humankind.

Praised by critics worldwide, Sharkwater has won 23 International Film Awards to date, including the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature and Audience Choice Award at the Gen Art Film Festival; People's Choice at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Atlantic International Film Festival; Top Ten at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Cambridge International Film Festival; Best HD Feature at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival; and is nominated for both a Genie Award and a Genesis Award.

The DVD extras include an interview with filmmaker Rob Stewart; Sharkwater: Beneath the Surface featurette (16 min., standard DVD only); Making of Sharkwater featurette (24 min., Blu-Ray only); Shark Defense (11 min.), a vintage Naval training film that taught Air Force pilots what to do when cast adrift in shark-infested waters; TV spots and the theatrical trailer.