Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Problems With Planet Earth

There are two senses in which the above title applies, and both came to the fore yesterday when all my appliances revolted and I watched two episodes of the BBC documentary series "Planet Earth".

First the documentary: I have always enjoyed a good documentary film, especially when it teaches the viewer something new. I used to love astronomy/cosmology documentaries until they started to fill them with flashy graphics instead of good information. They seemed to think you'd learn more by watching long segments of flashy computer-rendered "exciting" scenes, rather than perhaps a still image with someone explaining it. There are exceptions, of course: I really liked the four-part "Origins" program hosted by Neil Tyson on Nova, but the new Planet Earth series has really let me down so far.

I've watched the first three episodes and it seems to be a series of random "watch the predator eat its pitiful prey" and "here's some majestic footage of mountains and Big Impressive Things with an orchestra to remind you how moving it all is." I can go along with a few shots like that, but the whole program was a series of these, one straight after the other, with no connective tissue, no discussion of evolution/history/ecology to tie it all together. Perhaps they'll talk more about it later, but it really got obvious after a while that they were more concerned with showing off their flashy helicopter-based aerial shots, their expensive orchestra with overworked French Horns, and how well they can write ominous sounding music for the numerous scenes where the Bad Ol' Predator sneaks up on its doe-eyed Bambi-like lunch. Carnivores have to eat too, dammit, and film-makers should have more creativity than playing "Jaws" sound-alikes over every scene where something eats something else.

A missed opportunity, to my mind, in a world where evolution still needs all the good explanations it can get, to help people understand why the world is the way it is. Nature is not just a series of photo ops and "cool" spectacles, there's a lot to learn about life in there, if they'd care to discuss it.

As for the appliances, well, it's just the usual modern litany of a day when everything went wrong. As of last night I was combatting problems with my laptop, my computer, the garbage disposal, one of our cars, Bellsouth and their misleading sales reps, insurance agents (two of them) and landscaping contractors.

Just another day on Earth, as Brian Eno says.

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