Human Planet (Blu-ray Review)

Human Planet is the first BBC/Discovery Channel co-production to focus solely on human behavior. From the makers of Planet EarthLife, and Blue PlanetHuman Planet focuses on humanities amazing, complex and profound relationship with nature.  It weaves together 80 stories, many never told before, to illuminate humanity’s uncanny ability to adapt and live in every corner of our diverse world.   Each episode centers on a particular habitat, and by using innovative and cutting edge filming techniques, reveals how its people have created astonishing solutions in the face of extreme adversity.


Being the proud owner of Planet Earth and Blue Planet, I jumped at the chance to review this new series as I knew that it would be spectacular and I was right.  This globetrotting series captured life in a way that I’ve never seen before which is part of the reason I wanted to see it and to get it for my son.  It’s easy to believe that everyone in the world lives much like we do here, but that is not the case at all.  It’s amazing to see the lengths that people go just to survive that we never see whether it’s braving hungry lions to steal one of their kills, or attacking a whale with a spear after jumping from a small boat.

This series shows us just how different the lives these people lead compared to ours while at the same time showing us just how similar they are to us.  That may seem like a contradiction and in some ways it is, but no matter how the people throughout the world survive, they all have the same desires, dreams, and love for their children we all do.  Those points are driven home by some unexpected humor throughout the show such as a native who climbs insanely high trees to brave a bees nest just because his wife is mad at him for not bringing home enough honey.  Or the man who lives in the Himalayas and who has to take his children across a frozen river that’s quickly melting during a three day hike to get them to school.

This show is also a testament to the unflagging efforts of the BBC production crew who brave all kinds of climates and dangers to bring us back this jaw-dropping footage.  To give you an idea of what’s involved in making the Human Planet series, the production team spent 900 days camping, 120 days hiking with 275,000 pounds of camera equipment and consumed 190 bottles of mosquito repellent!  That’s pretty hardcore, but it was all worth it once you see the finished show.  Take a look at the descriptions of the various climates and regions that show off distinctly different areas as relayed by the BBC  :

  • Oceans: Into the Blue – As an air-breathing animal, the human is not built to survive in water.  But people have found ways to live an almost aquatic life so they can exploit the sea’s riches.  From a ‘shark-whisperer’ in the Pacific to Brazilian fishermen collaborating with dolphins to catch mullet, this journey into the blue reveals astonishing tales of ingenuity and bravery.  Watch some desperate fisherman dive deep into the ocean with only an ancient crappy respirator to keep them all alive for $25 a day.  If they come up too fast they get the bends and death is a constant companion.
  • Deserts: Life in the Furnace – We can survive for weeks without food, but only days without water: it is the essential element of life. Yet many millions of us live in parched deserts around the world. In the second episode of Human Planet, we discover how the eternal quest for water brings huge challenges – and ingenious solutions – in the driest places on Earth.  Battling through a sand storm in Mali, Mamadou must get his cows to a remote lake but desert elephants have arrived first. Can he find a safe way through the elephant blockade? Alone for weeks on end, Tubu women and children navigate the endless dunes of the Sahara. How does young Shede know where to find the last oasis, three days walk across the sea of sand? At the height of the drought we witness a spectacular frenzy: two thousand men rushing into Antogo Lake to catch the fish trapped by the evaporating water. When the rain finally arrives in the desert it’s a time for flowering and jubilation – and love. The Wodaabe men of Niger put on make-up for an intoxicating courtship dance and beauty contest.  Seeing thousands  of men plunge into a lake in an attempt to catch a fish is something to see.  It’s exhilarating and sad all at the same time to see this kind of desperation for food.
  • Arctic: Life in the Deep Freeze – The weather is sixty degrees below zero.  The harshest environment on Earth.  Yet four million people manage to survive in the Arctic.  This film follows a year in the human freezer – from the dark days of winter, when fishermen catch sharks through holes in the ice to feed their dog-sled teams, to the hazardous ventures of mussel-gatherers under the sea ice, escaping the incoming spring tide with seconds to spare, through to autumn and the most dangerous night for some children: Halloween.  Can the ‘polar bear patrol’ in Churchill, Manitoba protect intrepid little trick-or-treaters from hungry predators?  Episodes like this one are hard to watch as it’s not enjoyable to see a Narwhal get hunted and killed but at the same time, there aren’t many options for the people who live there.
  • Jungles: People of the Trees – Rain-forests teem with more species than anywhere else on the planet, but for bipedal human apes they make an unforgiving home.  To survive in the jungle demands an intimate and complex understanding of nature’s many secrets.  In the Amazon the Matis tribe spike their darts with natural poison, shooting them through blowpipes with pinpoint accuracy.  Hundreds of feet up in the canopy, balancing on a single branch, a Bayaka father collects honey surrounded by angry, stinging African ‘killer’ bees, while in West Papua people build incredible homes in the rain-forest canopy.  This is one of my favorite episodes because it’s really impressive to see a house built in the trees far above the ground.  
  • Mountains: Life in Thin Air – From lush cloud forests at lower altitudes to bare summits that literally take your breath away, the higher you climb, the harder life becomes when you make your home on a mountain. Mongolia’s vast open plateaus make ambushing prey impossible, so hunters have forged an astonishing partnership with golden eagles, while on the precipitous cliff tops in Ethiopia, families are locked in a dramatic fight to protect their meager harvest from fearsome crop-raiding baboons.  In a never-before filmed ceremony, Buddhists in Nepal offer their dead up to the vultures in the ultimate reverence of nature.  I had no idea that eagles could be trained to hunt for humans and it was interesting to see the eagle take on a fox.
  • Grasslands: The Roots of Power – Grasslands are the habitat that feed the world.  Over thousands of years, we have learned to dominate and domesticate other creatures, as well as the grass itself, propelling our population to almost seven billion.  But life in our Garden of Eden is not always easy.  Men steal fresh kill from the jaws of lions in Kenya, Suri tribes stick-fight to prove they can take care of prized cattle and Mongolian horsemen lasso wild mares just to collect a pint of milk.  In the perfect partnership, Maasai children literally talk to tiny birds to find hidden honeycombs, sharing the sweet reward.   Building a house in the canopy of trees takes some bravery but to steal a pride of lions’ kill takes a whole other set of brass ones.
  • Rivers: Friend and Foe – They provide the essentials for human life: fresh water, food and even natural highways, but rivers are also often capricious and unpredictable, treacherous and demanding.  A fisherman balances on a home-made high wire strung above the raging Mekong River rapids on an extraordinary commute to work.  When the drought hits northern Kenya the rivers dry out, yet by working together, wild elephants and the Samburu are able to find water to drink.  High in the Himalayas, a father and his two children make the most epic and dangerous school run on Earth, a heart-thumping 100 kilometer trek upon a semi-frozen river.  Next time your Dad or Grandfather start to tell you about how hard their trek to school involved wading through the snow, just show them this episode where a family has to make it across a river of melting ice to make it to school.  Not only does the father have to get his children there safely, but he also has to survive the return trip home!
  • Cities: Surviving the Urban Jungle – Cities are our greatest success story, made by humans for humans.  Over half the world’s population now lives in urban environments.  They may have been built to keep wild nature out, but nature cannot be pushed away – from bed bugs sucking our blood at night, to gangs of monkey muggers and rampant elks rutting in downtown USA.  In fact, cities are actually the places where we demand and need most from nature, making our ability to look after it more vital than ever.   This episode offers us a look at how animals and insects are encroaching more and more on human territory.   The monkeys in India are a real problem as they are everywhere and are known to steal food and cause problems.

I highly recommend visiting the official Human Planet site and its Facebook page to learn more about the show and to see more of the awesome videos that I haven’t already included in this review.  There’s also a “Human Planet Trivia Challenge Game” you can go to where you can win Blu-ray copies of the show.  If you are interested in playing the game to win prizes, please click here.


Although the series is presented in 1080i (1.78:1), don’t worry about it because it still looks beautiful despite not having our preferred 1080p resolution.  This series has very nice sharp picture that offers a lot of detail.  Colors are vibrant and pop off the screen especially during the tribal mating dance where the colorful costumes look like something right out of Mardi Gras.  Black levels are satisfyingly deep and the contrast is excellent.  As a side note, I wanted to commend the show for not including sensationalist shots such as graphic views of the kills or the nudity which allows younger audiences to be able to watch it.  There’s still some content that each parent should watch before showing it to their kids, but compared to a lot of other shows, this show does a pretty good job maintaining an acceptable content level for families.


The show’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is pretty good but I was disappointed that the ambient environment wasn’t captured better.  The focus of the audio track seems to be on narrator John Hurt’s dialogue, which of course is expertly delivered, but a show filmed in such amazing environments should also capture more of that atmosphere.  Whether it’s the jungle noises or the raging waterfalls, they all seem somewhat muted and also pushed into the background.  Everything else however, is top notch and the narration and music work well together even if the music is somewhat manipulative at times.  This would have gotten a five rating if the environment had been more present in the mix but this is still a very good mix.

Special Features

The Human Planet DVD and Blu-ray includes all eight episodes from the original UK broadcast version, presented by John Hurt, extending the home viewing experience with three hours of footage not seen in the North American broadcast.  The episode titled Cities, is exclusive to the DVD and Blu-ray.

  • Behind the Lens – A set of 10 ten-minute “making of” featurettes, one at the end of each episode plus two bonus featurettes!  These featurettes are almost as fascinating to watch as the episode themselves!  It’s impressive to see ingenuity and perseverance needed to capture some of the shots of the show.
  • BD-Live added feature “Zanskar” – This is BD-Live extra about the people who live on the edge of the Himalayas who have to survive in an extremely harsh environment.

Final Thoughts

This is another outstanding effort from the BBC that not only shows us life in other parts of the world, but also gives us the opportunity to realize how good we have it here.  Seeing other cultures and ways of life is something that I believe is beneficial to our understanding of the world and our place in it and I highly recommend this series.  If you loved Planet Earth or Blue Planet, I can safely assure you that you will love this series as well.

Order your copy of Human Planet today!


1 Response to “Human Planet (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Yup, picking this up.