Home: A Stunning Visual Portrayal of Earth [Blu-ray Review]

Narrated by: Glenn Close
Directed by: Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Running Time: 118 minutes

Back Cover

Experience the wonderment of our world in a way that will enthral, captivate and inspire you! Award-winning aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand and narrator Glenn Close take you on a spectacular voyage around the world in Home, a unique film with such breathtaking imagery, you’ll want to enjoy it time and time again.

Spanning 54 countries and 120 locations, Home captures the Earth’s most amazing landscapes in a new and astonishing light, showcasing its incomparable beauty and acknowledging its vulnerability to change. A remarkable achievement in filmmaking, Home is for anyone who’s ever wanted to explore, discover and soar in a way that puts our world — and our place in it — into true perspective.

Movie Review

It’s not easy making a nature documentary these days. The BBC’s landmark series Planet Earth took the entire genre and tossed it on its ear, ending forever the concept that a doc’s visuals and sound are subservient to its content. No, the BBC’s Natural History Unit set the bar high for both presentation and substance. It might seem strange, then, that the company bankrolling Home is PPR Group, the multifaceted French purveyor of luxury goods. As to how a company known more for its Stella McCartney and Gucci brands than for eco-commentary documentaries got involved, that touches on what might be this film’s greatest genius. Home sticks out from the increasingly saturated nature doc field by virtue of its marketing. Specifically, the fact that it was simultaneously released on TV, in cinemas, on DVD and on YouTube on 5 June… for free. The idea was that everyone should be able to see the film; that it was eyes on screens, not box-office dollars, that would dictate Home’s success. The film was also freely downloadable from its website until 14 June. To do this, Arthus-Bertrand and co. needed a sponsor with bottomless pockets, hence the PPR involvement.

Overall, the film takes the same general format that most nature docs do: The set-up (lush, beautiful images), the Man effect (a shiv between the ribs of Mother Earth), the plea for everyone to pull together and save the planet, and the sprinkle of good news to keep you from getting discouraged. But take a second look: whereas Home at first comes off as a simple nature documentary, it soon becomes clear that the film is actually about the effect that we, as a race, have on the world around us. But rather than use the earnest bombast of, say CNN’s two-part Planet in Peril or the cerebral talking head format of Leonardo DiCaprio’s The 11th Hour, Home depends on the skilful play of narration, music and stunning images to create a more visceral, more accessible demand for sustainability.

The narration itself is thick with Gallic turns of phrase and typically French repetition of key phrases, all of which clearly mark it as a translation. These narrative devices work better on the French-language soundtrack, where one kind of expects the text to veer into purple prose, but whereas the langue de Moliere seems almost built for that sort of thing, it doesn’t gel as well with the simpler construction of the English language, especially when delivered in Glenn Close’s all-American accent.  Similarly jarring is the series of text cards in the third act, most of which could have used another go-over by a proofreader in the name of keeping the Gallicisms at bay.

Crave Factor: 8

Video

It’s getting harder to score sound and video quality for nature documentaries: does one take the jaded route and simply expect the HD age to give us stupendous media enjoyment, and thus give a beautiful film an average mark because of this? Or does one simply enjoy a fabulous viewing experience and give credit where it’s due? I’ll give the credit: The image quality is of the high grade you’d expect, but the framing is all Yann Arthus-Bertrand (or YAB, to those in the know); heavy on the long-range aerial photography that made him so famous. For Home, YAB opted for a similar high-tech helicopter-mounted military camera setup as the BBC team did for Planet Earth, which gives an even sharper, clearer image than that found in his previous big-ticket multi-platform photo exhibit, Earth from Above. In addition, the editing is crisp but majestic in scope, resulting in a lyrical, moving film.

Crave factor: 10

Audio

Both the English and French-language tracks are in 5.1 sound, though the English is in full 5.1 DTS-HD and the French in simple 5.1 Dolby Digital. The sound is well-balanced, with a tasteful mix of music. The music and sound effects never overpower the narration, and the use of a well-known celebrity voice lends the film the A-list character that seems to be the norm with these docs nowadays.

Crave factor: 9

Extras

It seems almost selfish to snipe at a disc for not having extras, but in this age, the audience for any Blu-ray disc is going to expect at least a making-of. There’s none of that here. Instead, the extras live at the film’s YouTube hub, where you can still watch the entire movie as well, in one of several available languages.

Crave factor: 5

Menu & Packaging

The packaging used is both an encouraging look at what is possible, and damning evidence that few people really care about the planet beyond the usual skin-deep greenwashing: Not only was the disc free of that annoying ubiquitous cardboard sleeve, but the case is reduced almost to a skeletal form to reduce the use of plastic. Further, the paper insert is made of 30 per cent recycled fibres, and the printing was done with bio-based ink. These days, it’s not unreasonable to expect every DVD or Blu-ray to come similarly packaged, but for some reason, marketing types still think that we, as consumers, only expect Earth-friendlier packaging when the film talks about saving the world.

Crave factor: 10

Conclusions & Final Thoughts

To someone who is only familiar with Arthus-Bertrand through his sports shooting in Paris Match or the coffee-table book of Earth from Above, it’s almost unfortunate that the company backing the whole deal is a fashion and luxury goods flogger. So many expensively aesthetic names coming together like this gives the film an element of being a socialite’s pet charity, rather than a well-researched and vital work of knowledge-based cinema like the BBC NHU’s works or Iain Stewart’s terrific Earth, the Biography series. But Yann Arthus-Bertrand is more than a sports snapper sticking his head out from a helicopter to shoot a landscape: True, he is not a biologist or a geologist. He is, however, a nature conservationist with a hefty helping of street cred.

Though the Arthus-Bertrand family is best known for its jewellery lines, and Yann himself spent part of his early life as an actor, he also ran a nature park in France and spent a few years photographing a lion family in Kenya. Now, 30-odd years later, his Altitude Agency is the premier image bank specializing in aerial photography. His best-selling Earth from Above was produced with a grant from UNESCO as a “survey on the state of the Earth at the eve of the 21st century,” (as described on YAB’s website), and his non-profit GoodPlanet.org has been in the thick of the fight for more sustainable planet since 2005.

Maybe it’s unfair to weigh a one-off like Home against the momentous series mentioned above — or maybe it’s not. Maybe even a one-off could have benefited from an association with a mediagenic name like Dr. David Suzuki or Dr. Iain Stewart.

Or, it could be that YAB’s name will attract the same people who bought Earth from Above because it was the buzz of the month rather than due to any real art appreciation. This same population segment will have seen Home because of the same mass-market pull, and maybe, just maybe had their eyes opened to what’s really happening on the one planet we have to live on.

Overall Crave Factor: 8.4

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