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Frozen Planet (Blu-ray Review)

6 Apr, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 4/17/12
Three-disc set, $39.98 DVD, $54.98 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Narrated by David Attenborough.

The BBC Natural History Unit certainly knows not to mess with a winning formula. The template introduced in 2007’s landmark Planet Earth seems simple enough: Combine breathtaking high-definition footage with authoritative narration to present nature in ways that had never been seen before. The Planet Earth team repeated its success in 2010’s Life and now is back with Frozen Planet, a spin-off of sorts that delves deeper into the Polar Regions, where the frozen landscapes can be paradoxically dreary and beautiful.

Frozen Planet follows the same format as the other shows, with an opening episode that provides an overview of the series and subsequent episodes focusing on specific elements. While the other series consisted of at least 10 parts, Frozen Planet is much shorter, with just seven. Four episodes are devoted to how each of the seasons affects the polar ecosystems. You can imagine how harsh winter would be in a place that’s already cold and frigid by design. Viewers will note that some of the animal behaviors on display, such as stories about polar bears and penguins, were glimpsed at in Planet Earth and Life, though are presented in more detail here.

Another trademark of these shows is the amazing use of time-lapse photography. Frozen Planet uses the technique to show glaciers in Greenland tearing through rock to carve a path to the sea, and the formation of a giant ice crystal in the waters off Antarctica that kills everything it touches.

Another two episodes represent a bit of a departure from Frozen Planet’s predecessors by putting more emphasis on humanity’s relationship with these regions, hinted at in the opener with presenter David Attenborough actually appearing on camera to guide viewers through the journey from North Pole to South Pole. Attenborough wasn’t as much of a visual presence in Planet Earth or Life.

One episode is devoted to human exploration, with much of the focus on the quest to reach the south pole and the state-of-the-art Amundsen–Scott research facility that was built there. Some of the stuff on display in this episode and a bonus featurette about polar exploration is just plain cool, such as how robotic probes are used to explore parts of Antarctica that humans never would be able to reach.

The final episode deals with the potential effects of climate change, wisely avoiding any political discussion by focusing mostly on science in the sense that it explains what could happen, rather than what should be done about it.

This examination of humanity, however limited, plays well to the subject matter, and also connects the documentary to last year’s Human Planet, which was made by a different production team but copied the Planet Earth formula with equally spectacular results.

Each episode is accompanied by a making-of featurette, and the set includes a collection of video diaries made by production team members. Rounding out the set is a 60-minute “best of” highlight reel and a music-only option that lets viewers enjoy the stunning footage for what it is.

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