The Planet Earth DVD box set arrived the other day. I had seen one of the episodes on the Discovery Channel and right away was awed. I usually am a fan of nature shows anyway, but this was on a whole other level.
It’s not only the stunning images they have captured from all over the world. Most shows of this type are interesting, but they always seem to be presenting something far away. We see footage from Africa or South America or even the US, but it has the same effect as visiting a national park. Nature exists in those places, not in our homes and neighborhoods.
It’s strange that Planet Earth would have a different effect, as it in no way features familiar environments. Quite the opposite; it is perhaps the most ambitious nature series ever produced, with a huge production and the latest technology being used to capture spectacular images from the farthest corners of the world.
But the emphasis is different. Episodes are not set in a location, like Yosemite National Park or the Serengeti. Instead, the settings are ecosystems: mountains, the deep ocean, the great plains. As the title of the series implies, they aim to capture the wonders of the whole planet. The sweeping scope helps us to see that this is our world, fabulous and strange as it may be.
Watching the episode on forests this afternoon, I noticed that some of the bird songs coming from the tv exactly matched those outside my window. We are surrounded by media and other man-made environments that do their best to separate everyday life from an abstract, external concept of Nature. But these documentaries give a powerful response to that idea: nature is both the most glorious and exotic places of our world, but it also right outside, and inside, our windows. We breathe the same air, and live the same life, as every other creature on this planet.