Saturday, July 21, 2007

Couch potatoing it

I recently finished watching the BBC's landmark "Planet Earth" miniseries on DVD. Narrated by David Attenborough, this amazing program shows some of the rarest species and most untrammeled ecosystems on earth. Some of the most breathtaking and memorable sights:
  • the extremely rare Amur leopard foraging where food is scarce
  • a mountain of bat guano literally crawling with cockroaches
  • some of the most bizarre and amusing mating dances of various birds of paradise
  • a herd of wild and skittish Bactrian camels in Mongolia
  • flocks of birds so huge they take five hours to pass above an observer
  • the rare and sad sight of a polar bear attempting to kill an adult walrus
  • hungry lions bringing down a panicked adult elephant in the dark
...And so much more. I was pleased, when I subbed at The Job a few weeks back, to find cranky old Ms. F showing the kids some of the first disc. I think all children ought to watch this series. It's essential viewing for anyone with an ounce of interest in anything beyond arm's reach.

The last disc has three shows made up of interviews with various people talking about the future of ecosystems, species, protection, and development. The interviewees include people as diverse the Archbishop of Canterbury, E.O. Wilson, a British scientist working in Zimbabwe, the head of the WWF, and a couple of thugs from the Bush administration there to pooh-pooh global warming. These interviews are also required viewing; indeed, I was a bit puzzled as to why they were set off in a sort of epilogue to themselves. Someone who watched only the first four discs, the "Planet Earth" show proper, might easily come away thinking (melting polar caps aside) that there's plenty of untouched wilderness left, and that biodiversity is not being altered irrevocably by industrial development.

Oh, and I also watched Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone and other people who aren't famous. I'd always dismissed it as tripe, even after friends told me it was based on Jane Austen's Emma (which I love). A lot of films based on impeccable sources tend to vitiate rather than honor their source material (10 Things I Hate About You, for example). Still, I got around to watching it, and was delighted at how entertaining it was. It's really very funny, with a witty script and a lot of quirky moments. It's only marginally based on Austen's novel, being a rather frothy original tale using the framework than a real adaptation. What really saves the movie is Alicia Silverstone, who is (a) incredibly cute --- and the movie gives her plenty of chances to show off her best features, and perhaps more importantly (b) just terrifically skilled in her role as the vapid but good-hearted Cher. With a wave of her hands or a roll of her eye, she coveys volumes about her character. I enjoyed her turn in this film just as much as I did Gwyneth Paltrow's titular role in her own very funny version of Emma.

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