The BBC Earth team has taken on extensive wildlife documentaries in the past. They've given us the hit documentary series 'Planet Earth', 'Blue Planet', and 'Life.' Now, they've switched their sights to something new. Something that they have largely left untouched…
The Human Condition.
Can the human condition be quantified in a few hour-long segments? No, absolutely not, but that doesn't stop the BBC from trying. They travel the world seeking out the weird and wonderful that reside in humans across the globe. It's beautiful, really, watching humans around the globe hunt, eat, and socialize. I saw a movie at Sundance this past January called 'Life in a Day'. On a single day people documented their lives and uploaded the clips to YouTube. Director Kevin MacDonald took those clips and made a splendid, living time capsule of what life is like on earth in one day. 'Human Planet' feels a lot like that.
The BBC crew travels from the frigid arctic to the world's blistering hot deserts to observe people living their lives. Some of them walk days to find water, while others have to wait weeks before they can hunt their next meal.
The series covers eight distinct places on earth where human beings have carved out a living for themselves. Even if those places seem nearly inhospitable, people live there, work there, and play there.
Oceans: Into the Blue
One of the most harrowing episodes of the entire series. This episode deals with people who survive because of the ocean. From people who live completely on water, traveling around in houseboats, to divers in the Philippines who dive up to 40 meters with only a rickety old air compressor and plastic hose keeping them alive. Watching these guys risk life and limb on a daily basis for the equivalent of $25 a week is simply stunning and heart-breaking at the same time.
Deserts: Life in the Furnace
Here we get to witness how tough it is for people in the desert regions of the world to get water. Some people walk for weeks just to find the nearest well. They wait all year just for the rainy season so that they can collect enough water to keep them going through the dry season. The fish catching celebration is a sight to behold. In typical BBC fashion they're able to capture a once-in-a-lifetime event with a single beautiful, sweeping camera movement that takes it all in.
Arctic: Life in the Deep Freeze
Out of any place on earth I couldn't imagine living in the Arctic. Sub-zero temperatures almost year-round, ice two meters thick, and the threat of polar bears attacking at any moment. Here we get to witness the Inuit people of the North build igloos, and hunt. They hunt everything from Greenland Sharks to Narwhal. We even get to witness an event that doesn't take place anywhere else on earth. A place where the tide goes out so far that the local people have around a half an hour to chop through the ice go down to the dry seabed and gather as many mussels as possible before the tide comes back in.
Jungles: People of the Trees
The very first story may make your stomach turn. Venezuelan children, who are completely dependent on the rainforest to live, set out to catch tarantulas for dinner. Yes, tarantulas. These young kids know exactly where to look and how to catch them. Then they toast them up like marshmallows. Yum! Another one of the great spectacles of 'Human Planet' is its depiction of New Guinea's tribal gathering and celebration. The scope, size, and colors of the party are some of the best shots in the series.
Mountains: Life in Thin Air
Inhabitants of the world's mountains are discussed in detail here. Miners who have to work near an acid lake that produces poisonous gases to is an eerie reminder about how far people will go to make a living. Five dollars for each load of sulfur they bring up, but to what extent did they just damage their lungs bringing that sulfur up? There's also some great footage in this episode of roaring avalanches tearing down the mountains in the Swiss Alps, and a startling story of how the Swiss control avalanches by setting them off with dynamite. This technique is used around the world, but it's always crazy to actually see it in action.
Grasslands: The Roots of Power
Here we get to watch African Bushmen in action as they hunt big game. Watching them prepare for a hunt is actually quite spectacular. We may not agree with their methods (burning whole areas of grassland so the animals have no cover), but it's interesting nonetheless. Manmade grasslands are also discussed here and they talk about how the formation of farms and agricultural land not only redraws our own natural landscape, but how it's endangering wild grasslands as well.
Rivers: Friend and Foe
People who live and work on the rivers of the world are covered here. After the many stories of people who live in under or undeveloped parts of the world, it was a nice change to move onto a Ottawa, Canada to see how a group of men continuously have to bust up the ice that freezes on the river in the capital. If they don't, they could have a huge flooding problem. We get to see the power rivers like the Ganges which continuously swallow up whole villages as it erodes its banks like they weren't even there.
Cities: Surviving the Urban Jungle
Many of the world's large cities are shown here. Many of the stories here are how animals and insects are taking over our cities. In India we get to see how humans are pitted in a constant struggle with Makak Monkeys, who roam the streets like gangs stealing food from local vendors. From there we go to Manhattan and watch as nighttime exterminators take on the hordes of New York City rats. There's a disgusting sequence that takes place in London that gave me the heebie-jeebies. Bedbugs. Yuck! This is also the episode where BBC takes a more environmental message. They talk about how our consumption is unsustainable and about up-and-coming green cities.
'Human Planet' is another extensive, breath-taking documentary series about life on our planet, only this time they're focusing on us. How we live, work, eat, and play around the world. How humans are able to eek out a living in every habitat on the planet. In short, BBC Earth has done it again.
Blu-ray Vital Statistics
'Human Planet' on comes to Blu-ray with three 50GB Blu-ray discs. The discs have been packaged in a cardboard foldout with each disc in its own hub. The foldout fits nicely into a cardboard sleeve that's provided. The sleeve has holographic cover art that isn't too flashy, but instead catches your eye every time you look at it. The OCD collector inside of me was a little sad to see that for whatever reason this packaging is shorter than the packaging used for 'Life', which looks a little wonky when they're placed next to each other on a shelf. As a sidenote I wanted to take issue with the way the subtitles are presented. Instead of putting them at the bottom of the screen BBC, decided to plaster them willy-nilly all over the screen. It's kind of annoying to be searching for subtitles, not knowing where they'll appear next.
Yes, it's true that the Blu-ray presentation of 'Human Planet' is in complete 1080i. On the 'Life' set only one episode was in 1080i, while the others were in 1080p. Here everything is in 1080i which is sure to infuriate some people out there. Personally, I don't have that big of a problem with it if it looks good, and boy does 'Human Planet' look good.
This video presentation beautifully captures the human life happening all over the globe. Colors are intense, vivid and rich. From bright red face paint, to the surging brown silt-filled Ganges river, all of the colors depicted here shine with exquisite beauty. Blacks are deep and inky. Shadows are, for the most part, perfectly delineated. There are a few scenes that involve night vision where the picture because overly grainy, but that's due to the night vision aspect.
Fine detail is simply stunning. Everything from fine animal hairs, to clouds of tiny dust particles, to tiny feathers on tribal headdresses is visible. The clarity is unbelievable, just like in past presentations like 'Life' and 'Planet Earth', 'Human Planet' shows no sign in slowing down or giving us a subpar look at life on earth.
Aliasing is present, but I only really noticed it in the "Cities" segment. Aerial shots of cities produce shimmering on buildings with tightly packed windows. A railing in Canada, above the frozen river, pulsates as the camera passes by. A CG rendition of a green city being built in Dubai is full of aliasing as the camera sweeps through a computer animated model of the city. Other than that I didn't notice any other technical anomalies that would distract viewing. All in all, this is just as well done as any of the other BBC Earth efforts.
I took issue with 'Life' because BBC tends to add in silly sound effects like prison bars closing when a Venus Fly Trap clamps shut. 'Human Planet' doesn't really have that problem, but there are some corny musical choices that are supposed to emphasize the struggles happening on screen, but instead they only serve to patronize the subjects. I just had to let that out. It has no bearing on the score that I will eventually give 'Human Planet's audio presentation, but this seemed like the best place to air my grievances.
I actually enjoyed 'Human Planet's sound design a bit more than I did with 'Life'. 'Human Planet' has a more engaging soundfield. The surrounds are used much more effectively. Busy cities are bustling with life. Horns, bike bells, and merchants selling goods can all be heard in the surrounds, as the camera focuses on its subject. The large fishing celebration in Africa has an encompassing effect, making you feel like you're right there barreling down the hillside hoping to catch yourself a fish.
Dialogue is perfectly placed and wonderfully rendered. The musical score, as patronizing as it is sometimes, offers a deep thematic feel to the series. It's hard not to get drawn into the episodes when the music is given such a wide expanse to fill in the soundfield. Pans work smoothly as the signature BBC crane shots effortlessly move from one impossible spot to another all the while the sound happening in frame is transported seamlessly across the soundstage and then out the other side. If you're thinking about purchasing this set, rest assured you're getting a great sounding documentary.
Discs 1 - 3
All too often we sit around in our homes and offices, safe in our comfortable bubbles, not realizing what sort of difficulties humans all over the world suffer everyday. The trials they must face, and the day-to-day struggle just to find food to eat. 'Human Life' barely scratches the surface of human existence, but it's a start. It's a marvelous, sweeping documentary that takes us to the corners of the globe in search of how humans have adapted to living just about everywhere on earth. The video is top-notch, just like other BBC Blu-rays that have passed our way. The audio is likewise just as amazing. Like 'Planet Earth' and 'Life,' 'Human Planet' is simply a must own.