Earth: The Biography is a breathtakingly beautiful, painstakingly detailed look into the life of our four and a half billion year old planet. Presented by the National Geographic Channel and the BBC, this five episode series, originally aired in mid-July and was quickly released on a two disc set.
Hosted by Dr. Iain Stewart, Earth: The Biography‘s episodes cover (and are titled) “Volcanoes”, “Atmosphere”, “Ice”, “Oceans”, and what is called “Rare Planet”. Although viewable as one continuous 230-minute program, the DVD also provides the option to view each of the separate episodes individually. In fact, it can be broken down even further into chapters on each of the six topics within each episode.
Each of the chapters are very neatly self-contained, making it quite easy to leave off and start again at nearly any point in the series without feeling the need to go back (the menu is also very logical and easy to navigate, which makes it a snap to locate and replay, for instance, the gorgeous footage of New Zealand in the first episode of “Volcanoes” or the coral reef footage in the “Oceans” episode). There are no “extras” on this set, but honestly, it’s so packed with information and visual treats that you could say the bonus features are integrated throughout the entire show.
Though some of the geology Dr. Stewart explains initially seems a bit basic, as the episodes continue the science becomes increasingly interesting and there’s a lot to be learned and discovered for viewers of every age and background. Earth: The Biography truly has something for everyone, including an atmospheric flight over South Africa in a cold war era English Electric Lightning for any armchair aviators, and the actual footage of Joe Kittenger’s 1960 ascent, in a helium balloon, to 19.5 miles and his subsequent sky dive from the top of the stratosphere. It features world renowned experts in many unexpected fields. In addition to professional cave divers in Mexico and glacial geologists in Greenland and Siberia, Troy Hartman, a stuntman and sky surfer, illustrates the fluidity of Earth’s atmosphere with a display of aerial acrobatics.
Of course, the main reason to watch is the spectacular nature film and the visual representations of what the Earth must have looked like at various stages in its development. It’s truly fascinating, and many of the locales Dr. Stewart travels to are places that very few people even know about, let alone get to see (a geode of giant crystals beneath a glacier, Cenotes—subterranean rivers which are evidence of the impact of a great meteor that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs—hidden in the jungles of the Yucatan, the permanent lava lake inside the crater of Erta Ale in the Afar region of Ethiopia, etc.)
At several points in the series, Dr. Stewart weaves each of the subjects together by bringing his narrative back to how each force was, and is, responsible for the evolutionary leaps and climatic conditions that caused complex life to begin on Earth. In fact, the last episode, Rare Planet, points out that everything, from Earth’s position relative to the sun, its relationship with the moon, and even the fact that Jupiter is so much larger have contributed to Earth’s abilities to create and support life.
Earth: The Biography is a stunning and thorough peek into the processes that have driven and shaped our unique planet for billions of years. It’s both entertaining and informative, it’s magnificently shot and it’s perfect for repeated viewing.