Television’s Brave New World

Seeing Planet Earth for the first time

The ocean was placid and calm as a group of ten of us held our breath for what was about to come. Suddenly, with awe-inspiring grace and fury, the surface of the water broke and a giant great white shark rose to a height of nearly fifteen feet, completely suspended in mid-air as its teeth clamped around the neck of an arctic seal. We sat slack-jawed in amazement before some of us started shouting, “go back, let’s see it again!”

Move over “American Idol,” you too “24,” there is a new show that packs more drama, more breathtaking beauty, more moments of utter disbelief than anything else currently on television. “Planet Earth” represents the next era of television. As the show’s “never before seen” theme makes clear, with the aid of high definition digital technology, audiences can now view the natural world nature in previously impossible ways. An eleven part series produced the BBC, “Planet Earth” first premiered in England in 2005. It has now been re-dubbed with narration by Sigourney Weaver and broadcast by The Discovery Channel for American audiences.

Digital Contemplation
Shot over a period of five years, employing 70 cameramen with the patience of saints, “Planet Earth” captures the magnificence of nature using the most innovative technology available. From satellite imagery to fiber optics “Planet” gives the audience the impression that there is nothing beyond their camera’s reach. This technology not only captures ever elusive moments with crystalline precision, the ability to speed up and slow down the digital images without distortion allows us to witness elements in nature that had never been captured previously. The dramatic shark attack described above was shot using a camera typically used to capture and analyze car crashes. The Photron high-speed camera, captures 1,000 frames per second extending an event that lasts several seconds into a 40-second sequence. Such an accomplishment would never have been possible with film technology, which would blur and distort the image. With digital technology the audience can contemplate each muscle ripple, every drop of water as the elusive killer performed a gravity defying attack.

Planet Earth makes the audience feel like tourists in their own living room reveling in the majesty of the natural world. The massive scope of the show portrays the world as a vast panorama of interconnected life prompting those of us watching to ask the question: “Where do I fit into this?”

Intimate Connections
Whether a person is religious or a scientific purist, the intimacy between man and nature created by this technology, bridges the divide between the rational and spiritual. The powerful emotional connection that technology facilitates between the viewer and the subject raises the hope that this new form of mediation might effect the way we see the world. Can these stunning images of natural beauty help inspire us to take action to protect the world from the wreckage of industrialization?

In a culture that receives its information via television, can remarkable images like the ones seen on “Planet Earth” help awaken us to the natural devastation our earth is suffering or will they simply become part of the indistinguishable mound of information saved on our TiVo’s or in our DVD collections? Will that great white be perpetually suspended in air with every glistening droplet of water clearly visible or will it leap into eternity and become a visual substitute for actual sharks inhabiting the wild?

Having delivered 10 unforgettable installments that have moved us from mountain tops to Arctic glaciers, the final episode in the series titled “The Future” is set to premier this Sunday. Perhaps with this last installment the producers of “Planet Earth” will be able to pull off a truly extraordinary feat and inspire great numbers of us to get up off our couches and act responsibly toward our Planet Earth.