"Earth" = New Generation of Sabbath Afternoon Nature Films

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The opening sequences of Disney's Earth (see trailer) come at you like the opening lines of a book on Intelligent Design. The iconic shot from outer space of the sun cresting the rim of the blue planet fills the screen as James Earl Jones, in his rolling bass voice, describes how perfectly positioned to support life is our earth.

Earth is the first title from Disney's new division, Disneynature. Released on Earth Day 2009, Earth attempts to provide something for everyone.

For families with young children, the film offers giggle-making footage of polar bears cubs scampering across snow fields, baby wood ducks jumping and flapping and falling from their perch high in a tree (and bouncing on soft leaves), a monkey overstuffing its mouth with small fruits, and the absurd antics of a six-plumed bird of paradise dancing wildly to attract a mate.

For those who love the elusive creatures of nature, the film provides rare images of a lone lynx stealing through snowy trees and great white sharks leaping out of the water.

People who care about environmental issues will take interest in the story of a male polar bear forced to swim over a large expanse of water because of rapidly melting ice. Exhausted, the bear finally reaches shore, desperate for food. It frantically attacks a herd of walruses, but is too weak to catch any. Finally it lays down mere feet away from the walruses, as the herd moves back to shore content that the bear no longer poses a threat.

For Adventists who grew up as I did on the stories of Sam Campbell's Moose Country, and his tales of deer, skunks and raccoons, and who spent Sabbath afternoons watching animal blooper videos, Earth ushers in a new generation of nature films. A sequel, Disneynature's Oceans is scheduled for release on Earth Day 2010.

Earth's spectacular footage comes from the BBC's Planet Earth miniseries, released in 2006. The Disney version plays like a highlight reel of some of the most unforgettable moments--and narratives--of the Planet Earth project.

Focusing on the stories of three families--a mother polar bear and her cubs, a humpback whale and her calf, and an elephant and her calf--Earth takes us on a one-year journey through desert sandstorms, beneath arctic waters, deep into tropical rainforests, and soaring over the Himalayas, as we experience the beauty and danger of nature.

While Earth walks a fine line between the concerns of religious viewers (judiciously avoiding any mention of the age of the earth), and the concerns of environmentalists (vividly portraying the effects of climate change), the film is above all realistic. Unlike the nature films I grew up watching in which fox pups sniff and romp with baby deer, in this film, predadors chase down prey.

The makers of Earth were careful not to show blood and gore. Initially, the camera cuts away before predator takes down prey. But by the midway point, a cheetah catches a young antelope, and a young girl down the row from me cries.

When a pride of lions attacks an elephant during a nighttime scene, a boy behind me blurts out, "Did the lions kill him?" Then he says louder, "Why?" There is a tremble in his voice.

Througout, parents reassure their children. The polar bear is gonna make it, a dad tells his child in front of me. And as if anticipating it all, James Earl Jones reminds us in Dolby digital sound that we urban dwellers have largely lost touch with the circle of life that plays itself out every day in the world around us.

Yet, for all the harsh realities of nature, Earth is an enchanting film that elicits "Oooh" from the audience when baby polar bears pop out of their den for the first time and squeals from children as penguins scoot across ice on their bellies.

Whether nature films were a part of your Sabbath ritual growing up or not, Earth is a thrilling reminder of the the countless good things in the creation we pause to remember every seventh day.





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