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Published November 16th, 2006 | by Coco Forsythe

The White Planet Review

Classification: U Director: Jean Lemire, Thierry Piantanida, Thierry Ragobert Rating: 2/5

The White Planet (La Planète blanche) is a French nature documentary along the lines of March of the Penguins. Set within the Arctic region (though the film is annoying vague as to exactly where it is set), it documents a year in the life of the inhabitants of one of the world’s harshest and most inhospitable regions.

We open on that most iconic of Arctic animals, a female polar bear digging a hole in the ice. She is preparing for the birth of her cubs, which takes place in the cosy safety of her den. The newborn cubs are incredibly small, barely the size of one of her paws, and it is amazing to see this huge killer cradling the tiny infants and keeping them warm. A few months later the cubs are the size of Alsatians and ready to leave the den. Venturing out into the light for the first time, they have a lot to learn, and must learn it quickly.

Other inhabitants have been equally busy. In rapid succession we cut from a lone wolf killing a lemming to a group of musk oxen grouped miserably together sheltering from the wind to a colony of harp seals to a pod of whales, before returning to the polar bears and their mother’s desperate search for food.

I have said before and I will say it again but noone does nature documentaries like the BBC’s Natural History Unit and The White Planet, while clearly inspired by it, cannot touch The Blue Planet or even come close. For starters, the title is silly. The Blue Planet makes sense because the planet IS mostly water. But the Arctic is only frozen for six months of the year, so the title feels like something dreamed up by the marketing team attempting to cash in on the success of the earlier film. Then there is the portentous, pretentious voice over. Instead of presenting us with simple facts, or explaining what is happening on screen, we get lines like ‘soon the midnight sun will banish night’. Yet there are whole scenes that are never set in context; sometimes you are not even sure what the animals on screen are, let alone what they are doing or why. The migration of caribou is splendidly photographed yet fails utterly to impart any information about why the caribou take such huge risks in order to travel from one part of the frozen tundra to another.

There is some beautiful photography here. Shots of the ice cap cracking and melting; of caribou swimming; of whales nursing their young – there is no lack of ambition on the cinematographer’s part, and there is some clever editing as well, especially when a polar bear is crashing through the ice to kill the seal in the tunnel below and we cut to the terrified seal trying to escape. There is also no squeamishness or shying away from death. But in the end the film is spoiled by the lack of information and trite, throwaway narration, as well as an annoying score featuring Bjork like vocals. Maybe watch it with the sound off and Sigur Ros on the stereo.

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