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Sacred Planet DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Theatrical Release: April 22, 2004 / Running Time: 47 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Jon Long

Tagline: Discover The Magic Of The Place Everyone Calls Home.

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: April 5, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $19.99)
Black Keepcase with side snaps

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The filmmaking process for Sacred Planet may have been something like this: "Let's take our IMAX camera all over the world to capture interesting sights." That's really all that was needed to create this film, which while not the most memorable, suceeds in providing alluring eye candy.

An existing interest in the planet might not be a requirement for those who inhabitate it, but it's definitely a good prerequisite to enjoying the film. This large-format documentary was directed and edited by Jon Long,
who also co-wrote and produced with his wife Karen Fernandez Long. Their film photographically praises Earth, the natural landscape, and the animals and people who respectfully live on it. Among their globetrotting adventures, the filmmakers gathered footage in the western United States (California, Utah, and Arizona), Borneo, southeastern Alaska, Namibia in Africa, and Thailand.

Most of the many subjects on display can be classified as either indigenous cultures or wildlife. The creatures of the undersea world get their screen time, as does Earth's natural architecture and even a bit of metropolitan scenery like highway traffic. There's a rattlesnake dancing in the desert, an unnamed African tribe depending on the land for the basics of life, stampeding giraffes, and a sea turtle majestically looming above the tinier residents of his environment.

I don't see Nemo, do you? The snake is dancing with itself in the desert.

At the pretty standard IMAX length of 47 minutes, one feels like Sacred Planet would have the same effect even if its running time were much shorter or longer. That is in part because there is no narrative and no clear point to the picture. But that's not a big problem since the film reminds us that the world has been around for a really long time and there are some pretty impressive things in it that most of us don't see nearly enough. The right sights and sounds are enough to achieve this wake-up call to modern audiences so far removed from nature and embedded in the teched-up present day. The images of Sacred Planet are powerful enough for you to forgive the lack of focus to a great degree.

The film doesn't tie together its images too well, but it doesn't really try to. Instead, its very different regions are randomly surveyed for their splendor. Despite the often sped-up cinematography, Sacred Planet assumes a rather laid-back, methodical pace. Dialogue isn't frequently employed, whether Robert Redford's stately narration or in accented English soundbites from natives of different parts of the globe. That's probably best, since the film is just as effective without speech as it is with.

Certainly, Sacred Planet would have been a lot more potent on a screen eleven times as big as you or me. Like any IMAX film that relies heavily on the sensory experience, the film is reduced along with the picture when watching it on a television. Even so, the cinematography remains rather breathtaking and overshadows any message that might be in there. The most obvious one that's there is to respect the land. The film clearly wants you to heed the words of wise elders who say that everything has a spirit. Sacred Planet implores you, the 21st-century viewer, to be conscious of your world and its strongest argument is tidy, appealing montage of nature.

There's just something about this tree, don't you think? Watch out for the large icebergs up ahead.

But the film never gets more specific than that. In fact it's as vague in its identification of people and places as it is in its overlying message.
In excerpts, some people who appreciate the land wax poetic about the state of the world today and humanity's increasing disinterest in their natural habitat. But Sacred Planet never makes particular laments (save for one shot of a solemn-looking chopped-down forest) or resorts to condemning humanity for the implicit carelesness and commercialization.

Released to IMAX theaters on Earth Day last year, it's clear from the reverent way the world is captured that Sacred Planet wants us to feel awe and respect for the environment. But I really don't think that one is supposed to perceive deeper meaning in the particular alignment of footage and music. At its heart, the film seems content to be a collection of affecting visuals, many livened with time lapse photography, set to haunting pre-recorded music. That might make for a swell IMAX experience, but much less so as one of many nature documentaries available on DVD.

Some of the film's footage, such as a disjointed walk through a mall at supersonic speed, just seems disposable if not for cool visual appeal. Sure, one can contrast the pace of what's "everyday life" for most of us with the nature's methodical rate, where without human intervention little changes occur over long periods of time. But anyone with a camera can go record tiny insects at work, wind blowing in trees, and any other element of nature to inspire similar not-particularly-profound feelings. That's not to undermine Sacred Planet's visual power. The filmmakers have access to much more exotic locations than your backyard or local park, and their photography and time-lapse effects are sure to surpass any amateur's work.

As strong as Sacred Planet's images are, though, on the whole the film, is meandering and forgettable. Its celebration of Planet Earth is a lot easier to appreciate than the celebration of "ordinary American heroes" that America's Heart & Soul gave us last year. The fact that less is spelled out for us makes it eminently easier to relate with the universal subject matter. All in all, this documentary is well-made but simple, and while that first part may be more relevant when watching, you'll more remember the "simple" aspect when recommending the film or not, as the case may now be.

In their film debut, this group of Namibians is all smiles. An eery-looking forest somewhere.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Visuals are essential to Sacred Planet's success and fortunately, they are flawlessly presented on DVD in a stunning 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There's great detail and bold, vibrant colors in the film's winning photography, and no noticeable elements to mar the picture at any point. There's also an open matte fullscreen version included, which adds a substantial amount of picture mostly at the top of the frame and a little at the bottom, with no apparent loss on the sides. This reformatted transfer is also a pleasant sight to behold and upholds strong framing. The ratio of the IMAX screen's dimensions is about 1.4:1, so both options probably alter the theatrical presentation, with no noticeable problems. As such, the fullscreen version is probably closer to the original exhibition ratio and seems like a reasonable viewing option for those who'd prefer seeing even more visuals than black bars.

Sound is presented in 5.1 tracks of both Dolby Digital and DTS varieties. The audio is also dutifully reproduced, with the soundtrack full of New Age instrumentals making strong use of the field. Environmental sound effects are well-mixed, and the soundbites and sparse narration are always of a consistent fidelity and high quality. The soundtrack avoids going for noises that will make you jolt, and for the most part, the volume is consistently mixed. At rare times, the music gets louder to heighten drama, though, so you may still be reaching for the remote. There's a powerful amount of bass to the music and recorded sounds which make good use of the subwoofer. The Dolby Digital track appears to be every bit as robust and enveloping as the DTS option provided.

Director/Editor/Producer/Writer Jon Long in "The Making of 'Sacred Planet.'" The bonus 'music video' entitled "Our Sacred Planet" includes footage not used in the film. The Main Menu

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

The most substantial of three bonus features is an audio commentary by Director Jon Long. While this track isn't always overflowing with speaking, Long shares some of his interesting outlooks on this particular film and the large-screen cinema format. He also recounts a few (not as many as you might expect or want) experiences he had making Sacred Planet.
Perhaps it would have been beneficial to have his wife or the director of photography join him to minimize the dead spaces and liven up discussion. While the movie's soundtrack becomes audible during gaps, it's worth noting that Long stops talking at the 39:30 mark, so if you're listening to the commentary, you may want to stop it there.

"The Making of Sacred Planet" featurette (11:15) doesn't go into the greatest amount of detail, but it reveals the husband-wife filmmaker team's intentions which are precisely realized and easily observed (images telling the story, no heavy-handed message, etc.). At least we know things didn't go terribly wrong. There are some interesting anecdotes about filming in certain places and the challenges faced, but not unlike the film and the commentary, one yearns for something more in-depth or earth-shattering (not literally, that would be hideous).

"Our Sacred Planet" is a 7-minute music video but not in the traditional sense. Like the film, it uses vibrant images set to haunting verse-less musical selections. It could be considered as somewhat of a narration-free extension of the film, since as is pointed out, some of the footage is not in the final cut. But at lot of it is, and the fullscreen, Dolby Surround presentation of the montage doesn't approach the high quality treatment given to the film.

Previews at the start of the disc are for Cinderella, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tarzan II, and America's Heart & Soul. The Sneak Peeks menu's second page adds the Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch trailer and promos for DisneyDVD.com (actually you won't be "the first to know" from that site) and the Disney Channel series "Phil of the Future."

All of the menus feature the same selection of score, and the Main Menu features animation by way of a montage of film footage in a globe graphic on the right side of the screen.

The sun also rises...on Buddha. Waiting for a bus only takes seconds in time-lapse photography.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Those who saw Sacred Planet in IMAX theaters and value the film should be satisfied by the DVD's stellar audio/video but left wanting more substance in the handful of extras. For everyone else who is interested, the DVD probably serves best as a rental, a nicely-photographed reminder of the natural beauty that exists in this world. While masterfully shot, the film doesn't have a clear enough vision to stick with you much after it's done, which limits its replay value and makes it pale in comparison to more focused IMAX documentaries.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related DVD Reviews:
Disney Nature Documentaries: Earth | Oceans | The Crimson Wing | True-Life Adventures, Volume 1: Wonders of the World
Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) | America's Heart & Soul (2004) | The Young Black Stallion (2003)
Never Cry Wolf (1983) | Cheetah (1989) | Brother Bear (2003) | A Far Off Place (1993)

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Reviewed March 27, 2005.