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Sacred Planet (2004) – DVD Review


Directed by: Jon Long
Narrated by: Robert Redford


  • Running audio commentary with director Long
  • Music video
  • Making-of featurette

Released by: Disney
Region: 1
Rating: G
Anamorphic: Yes.

Sacred Planet is a short (only forty-five minutes, standard IMAX length) documentary displaying some of the most beautiful and unique places on Earth. Contrasted with these peaceful and stunning images are bits and pieces of modern life, such as subways and bus stops. The poverty of our daily surroundings is immediately obvious, even given how beautiful human architecture and achievement can be, and often is.

Narrated by Robert Redford, we hear discussions from people who live in these gorgeous areas, such as an individual from Namibia, Africa and a medicine man from the American southwest. They discuss their relationship with their environment as a voice-over, while we are treated to such images as majestic running zebra herds, natural stone bridges, bird flocks flying over wetlands, and haunting deserts. You’ll see the just plain cool way sidewinders move along the red sands, along with tigers walking their bamboo realms, cloud formations over salt flats, a Native American child simply sitting among painted sandstone rocks. Other places visited include Thailand, British Columbia, ice fields, coral reefs, Borneo, and New Zealand. No matter your geographical interests, there should be something here to amaze you. Animals visited include monkeys, sea turtles, huge schools of tuna and other fish, elephants, tigers, birds, cetaceans, and of course many different kinds and cultures of humans.

There is some inherent didacticism, but as the camera pans across such things as the Grand Canyon, African savannahs, and ocean tableaux, you’ll fully understand why people are so passionate about preserving the environment, native cultures, and our natural human connection with the world, in the face of people who seem to glory in destruction—destruction of both the world and part of what is special about humanity. It is important to note that the film never blames humanity for destroying anything, though one shot of a destroyed forest is self-explanatory. Some environmentalists might say this waters down the “message” of the piece, but then, the people who need messages are the least likely to listen–if they know it’s a message. The speakers simply discuss with honesty and clarity their views and their cultures, and it would be great for students to come to appreciate other peoples. We hear about the role of elders and the young, as well as everyone’s shared connection with each other and with the rest of life on earth. It shows, rather than tells.

The sound is very well done, perfectly blending environmental sound effects with music and the voice-overs. The voices, often heavily accented in English, are still quite clear. As the speaker and accompanying geographical scenery changes, the background music changes to suit the culture being highlighted. The visuals of course are perfectly stunning, crisp and clean every when showing “merely” a village or an aged tree in the desert. Every color is clear and lovely, but true to life as reality speaks for itself and is far more beautiful than we could have created on a computer. A nice touch is that there are both widescreen and full-screen options.

Bonus features include a making-of featurette that is just over ten minutes long and shows scenes from the film, as well as some new scenes; this featurette could be an example of the kinds of information such things should always have, but all too often don’t, such as what the creators were thinking when they made certain choices. The director and producer discuss how they wanted the pictures and scenes to do the talking for them and the importance of having representatives from indigenous cultures speak. They also discuss their chosen technology and their cinematography choices. Some of the grandeur he wanted may be lost when viewing this at home on TV instead of at an IMAX theatre, but the overall intent was nicely preserved.

There are also brief words from the executive producer, and some really nice scenes of the indigenous peoples behind-the-scenes. There’s also “Our Sacred Planet: Unseen Moments in Time,” that presents shots and film that did not find a home in the main feature, such as Thailand’s rich temple heritage, a bear trying to catch his fishy dinner, and more. The audio commentary with direction Jon Long is quite good; he talks throughout most of the film, recounting all too few of his experiences while filming the piece. I would have loved to have had the staff cinematographer there as well or even a biologist/sociologist to fill in some more gaps in the discussion and enrich our understanding all the more. Finally, “Our Sacred Planet” is a kind of condensed version of the film in music-video format, and is the most dispensable of the special features.

A must for environmentalists and sociologists, it might be all the more important for non-environmentalists to see this documentary. Not only is it chock full of gorgeous images, including some places and creatures you’ve likely never seen before, but there is very real information and exploration here. Even if you’re a confirmed Discovery Channel addict, you’ll likely learn a great deal from this DVD, and it won’t be painful in the slightest. If nothing else, Sacred Planet will encourage you to get out into the world and become a part of the story for yourself; for most of us, that may be miracle enough. Regardless of your current political beliefs, treat yourself to this gorgeous vacation and resolve to make such beauty more a part of your everyday.

Buy it from Amazon.