Planet Earth: Six-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 6 (6 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: BBC/2-Entertain
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 4, 2011
- List Price: $79.98
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Anyone who hasn’t seen or heard of the BBC documentary series Planet Earth by now must have been living in one of the miraculously huge caves the crew of the series filmed over the course of the production. Almost immediately after Planet Earth initially hit Blu-ray, a year after the format’s introduction, it instantly became the biggest selling title the format has seen, and it continues to be one of its biggest sellers to this day. The BBC’s documentary nature series was 5-years in the making with a $25 million dollar budget, the largest ever for a factual series by the BBC. It would take the production crew literally from pole to pole, across the globe to the deepest depths of the strangest caves to the heights of the highest mountains. They would catch glimpses of some of the rarest animals in the world, like amour and snow leopards, or the Texas blind salamander.
No one can capture nature on camera like the BBC, and Planet Earth is now, and likely will be for a long time to come the definitive documentary series on our planet, its diversified climates and wild inhabitants. The series is filled with fantastic images, many never before seen, that will amaze, captivate, and stimulate the imagination. It is a profoundly entertaining and educational series that has in no way been over simplified or made family friendly, like some of the DisneyNature releases, such as Earth, which was an amalgamation of Planet Earth footage made into a pre-school ready film.
While this Special Edition doesn’t add any new footage, it does contain all 10 original episodes with the David Attenborough narration, not the U.S. Broadcast version with Sigourney Weaver, thankfully, and also includes a hefty dose of additional bonus programs and audio commentaries.
Planet Earth has been completely re-encoded for this new Special Edition set and while it loses the 1080p/24 of the original release in favor of a 1080i/60 encodement, what it gains is a very clean, high bitrate AVC/MPEG-4 transfer. In truth, there were always two different versions of Planet Earth available in the U.S., a Discovery Channel version exclusively available in the Discovery Store contained a 1080i encodement with the Sigourney Weaver narration. Thankfully, this release is superior to that one. Although I would swear this new 1080i encodement looks somewhat softer or smoother overall at times to its earlier 1080p counterpart, it definitely wins on account of the total absence of some artifacting like color banding and mild posterization that popped up here and there in the original BBC release. This is the definitive version, hands down.
While the Special Edition still hasn’t been given a lossless soundtrack, its 5.1 sound has been upgraded with the high bitrate lossy DTS-HD High Resolution codec. There is a marked improvement on this set over the original Planet Earth and other repackagings of the original set. Trail-offs sound much more natural, dynamics are wider, high frequencies sound a bit less jagged, and lows seem more extended as well. The mix is much more involving as a result, from the sounds of birds chirping or thunder booming in the surrounds with the weight of the subwoofer to underscore it. Still, it would have been nice to hear how much better it would have sounded with a lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Whereas the original release of Planet Earth was rather barebones, this Special Edition has been beefed up. The packaging has been upgraded to a sleek Blu-ray Book housed in a slipcover. Although I do not care for the way the discs just slide unprotected into the paper “sleeves” of the book, I must admit it looks very nice. Along with the Planet Earth Diaries featurettes, which were previously available, that tell of the production of each episode and are now broken off from each episode rather than playing right after the episode’s completion, the set includes an Isolated Score track (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo) and Producer Commentaries for select episodes (see below). Additionally, four (4) new bonus programs have been included and a sneak peek of Producer Alistair Fothergill’s Frozen Planet.
- Isolated Score
- “From Pole to Pole”
- “Great Plains”
- “Shallow Seas”
- Planet Earth Diaries (1.78:1; 480i/60)
- Great Planet Earth Moments (1.78:1; 480i/60; 00:45:42)
- Planet Earth: The Future (1.78:1; 480i/60):
- Saving the Species
- Into the Wilderness
- Living Together
- Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:48:42) – This featurette on the Snow Leopard actually appeared previously on the UK Blu-ray release of Planet Earth.
- Secrets of the Mayan Underworld (1.78:1; 480i/60; 00:48:44)
- Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:49:06)
- Frozen Planet Sneak Peek (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:12:36)
The Definitive Word
A monster in the category of nature documentaries, Planet Earth: Six-Disc Special Edition arrives with a new and impressive video encodement, upgraded audio and a host of bonus materials making this the new reference for nature documentaries on Blu-ray. It is more than just a cash grab, I have to say that, even if you have the earlier edition, this one is well worth owning.
Additional Screen Captures