The Blue Planet

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Television is a comparatively new kind of technology. Humanity has been using this medium for only about a century. The elder generation remembers the times of black and white television with one or two channels available. Nowadays, the situation has been changed. As Casey (2002) stated, “in the last few years the terrain has been altering dramatically with a mushrooming of channels, interactive viewing, compact discs, internet links and other innovations that tax our imaginations.” Today, one should acknowledge that the majority of the population spends leisure time viewing ‘the box in the corner’, or surfing the internet. A great quantity of information received with the help of television or Web can have either positive or negative impact on people. Thus, the above- mentioned technologies are blamed for advocacy of violence through action- thrillers or specific on-line games. They also prevent people from leading healthy active lives. Notwithstanding these facts, the advantageous sides of media technology progress remain evident. News, educational programs, feature films, or quiz shows broaden the outlook of viewers, develop sensibility, and enhance their cultural level. The “creative treatment of reality” can be also effected through such genre as film documentaries.

Documentaries

What is documentary? “The term ‘documentary’ was actually coined in the 1930s by a filmmaker John Grierson, who was a part of the British Documentary Movement”. This style of filming involves a wide range of production methods and forms for depicting the reality. In other words, with the use of recorded sounds and images of reality, a documentary narrator calls upon social analyzing. A documentary film is an extensive category of cinematic expression of nonfiction. The facts about a subject can be represented through using real events, persons or places in documentaries.  Neither a fiction film nor a documentary can be considered a full-rate one if it gives only a "re-presentation" of what happened to be. A film is hardly considered a film without camera work, cuts or editing.  Nowadays, it has become possible to raise the interest of the audience to documentary films owing to modern media devices, such as portable cameras and sound equipment.

The documentary films belong to the expository genre. The definition of documentary style depends on the set of elements on which the film focuses. If the documentary relies almost totally on the observational concept, it is accepted as cinema verite style. Mixed style involves different combinations of making documentaries, such as observation, interview and narration. The docudrama style focuses on dramatic affairs in the real life while documenting them. In fully-narrated documentaries, the voice-over has been used for making sense of the visual images and presenting their meaning. The above-mentioned styles are the most applicable in the documentary filming industry. The appropriate styles help the filmmakers create an affective picture while also teaching, carrying out research, propagating, informing or chronicling.

Presently, documentary filming continues to develop. The process of producing involves using the latest technical means, such as shooting from space, underwater imaging, computer technologies or special effects.

The Blue Planet Documentary

The Blue Planet series is a bright example of a documentary film revolving around the water or the creatures living in it. Each of the eight 50-minutes episodes examines the mystery of the ocean environment. The Blue Planet has become one of the most valuable samples of BBC nature documentaries. It is a fully-narrated film, having the voice-over of a well-known British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. The executive producer Alastair Fothergill has decided to avoid using an on-screen presenter because of the difficulties associated with speaking to camera through diving apparatus. Thus, the documentary gains even more admirers due to the magnetic voice of the narrator. The series was shown first in the United Kingdom in 2001.

The video begins with presentation of the factual findings that the Earth is the only planet 70 percent of which is covered with water. The story goes on informing us about a space shuttle Challenger with an oceanographer Paul Scully- Power on board who delivers the first oceanographic report from space. The data received from space makes possible the collaboration between oceanographers and meteorologists, who produce 3D computer simulations to show what is going on beneath the gulfstream. All these give evidence of producer’s cooperation with scientists relying upon the latest technical devices. Exactly this makes the project utterly informative and realistic.

The colorful picture of The Blue Planet invites us in a voyage of exploration of the coasts and the very edges of the oceans, where enigmatic and monstrous fish lurk in a world of everlasting darkness. Along the way, we are introduced to a great variety of wonderful creatures. Here, the tiny copepods take turns to majestic blue whales or the grotesque hairy anglerfish gawps at the incredible tripod fish, which stands on its three delicate legs expecting its unsuspecting victim. The project exposes the principles and laws of nature that make fish migrating regularly. The changes in the behavior of marine animals influenced by lunar phases, seasoning, or peculiarities of the environment are shown in this documentary as well. In such a way, series fulfills its educational function. Each of the eight episodes focuses on the life course of the ocean world accordingly to the places of shooting. Thus, the “Frozen Seas” tries to compare oceanic life in Arctic and Antarctica, stating that even the climate resemblance does not make the living pattern of water animals’ the same at both poles. “The Deep” episode, as it is clear from the title, gives us a possibility to peep in the unknown depth of the ocean. Attenborough remarks that it is “more known about the surface of the moon”. There, in the depth, we meet not only sharks, echinoderms or chimaeras, but also some strange creatures which are new to science.

The other episodes of a series, “SeasonalSeas,” “OpenOcean,” “CoralSeas,” “Coasts” and “Tidal Seas,” show the viewers the numerous other breathtaking moments. The filming has required submersibles and other special equipment, acquired after consulting with the marine scientists of all over the world. The same production team created Planet Earth series. For underwater shooting, both projects required "a flash strobe system of time-lapse photography... to capture events that otherwise move too slowly for us to fully appreciate, such as sea urchins slowly devouring forests of kelp, or totally bizarre sea creatures consuming the carcass of a dead tuna". In addition, the whole world of an ocean system was portrayed with the help of ultra-high speed cameras, which optically slowed the flash-like reaction of sharks or crocodiles while hunting.

Being shot in our days, the series include certainly such essential filming methods as close-ups, wide-angle or macro lenses, continuity cuts, deep focusing, and the others. Experienced underwater cinematographers and HD (high definition) engineers worked on camera settings to make filming the most expressive and of high quality.

Sound is effective in producing an emotional attachment in the audience. Besides narrative, “…we need something else to sustain our interest - a piece of music, for example- which may use narrative but can hold our attention without it”. The music that followed all the episodes of The Blue Planet was composed by George Fenton. The sound of his orchestrations does capture the mood of the ocean greatly. In other words, the music paints a mental picture of what is shown in the movie. The film critic Matt Brennan (2005) emphasizes, “Each of the sixteen tracks on the album is an episode, with its own sound and tone and instrumentation.” First starting the low notes and then moving them up in the moments of the most expressive underwater happenings, the music takes the viewers breath of away.

To conclude the exposition, some loose ends of this documentary should be mentioned as well. In spite of the fabulous cinematography of the series, the way the footage was put together remained not perfect. The truth is that the same footage was used many times. Another big fail is the lack of a logical flow or progression. It is sometimes difficult to keep a track of where in the world the action is happening.

Even having a few downsides, The Blue Planet, like most documentaries with the Attenborough stamp, remains enthralling and fascinating for its unique filming, scenery, and idea.

Jonathan Bird’s Blue World

The documentary series of an American photographer, cinematographer, producer and public speaker Jonathan Bird captures the viewers’ interest as well. This show can be considered as a family-friendly underwater exploration program. Mr. Bird acts both as a director and television host of Jonathan Bird’s Blue World. Each half-hour episode consists of three separate segments running 7-11 minutes. For viewing online, each segment is a component part of the self-contained webisodes. Jonathan Bird started the first shooting trials on his own, being inspired by the idea of sharing his knowledge about planet depth’s life with children. The formative years of program development took much patience of Bird and were full of difficulties. The first episodes were shot with the help of a small video camera for underwater work. Unlike a commercial sponsorship for The Blue Planet, Bird’s project was financed mostly by him and his fiends. Thus, they worked on a tight budget for a long period of time. Having started with the shooting of short educational films for schools, Bird and his diver friends formed the Oceanic Research Group shortly. Now, this company runs the project, being a co-producer of Jonathan Bird Productions.

If to compare the styles of The Blue Planet and Bird’s documentary, it becomes evident that they have some differences. Being full-narrated, The Blue Planet series is presented as steady-voiced informative program, whereas Bird’s episodes include mixed styles of documentary. Thus, the complete story of the latter is narrated by Jonathan Bird himself, sometimes in an off screen voice and sometimes on-camera. As the host of the series once said, “…we needed a second cameraman to get shots of me getting shots of the critters”. Another difference with The Blue Planet approves itself through the way of narration. Bird’s voice is vivid, lively, and invigorating. The series has a classic opener followed with the words: “Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and welcome to my world.” In such a way, Bird invites viewers to accompany him in the diving adventures simultaneously telling interesting facts about the ocean dwellers. Taking into consideration that the main audience of Jonathan Bird’s Blue World is supposed to be children and young people, his narrative manner suits the goal.

Bird gained the knowledge in shooting techniques, editing the footage and video producing while working at Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications. There, he cooperated with a TV producer Art Cohen and a news cameraman Tim Gears. In the process, both became his close friends and Blue World team members. The ideas what and how the story in the series should flow always came from Art Cohen. “Having good footage is important, but telling a good story is more important,” presumed Bird (n.d.) in his trip down memory lane. Therefore, the years of enthusiastic shootings and editing had their effect: the team signed the contract with National Geographic for making a film about pelagic sharks titled “Sharks of the OceanDesert.” Creating the next segment of Blue World, called “Secrets of the Reef,” “utilized over a dozen friends acting a volunteer film crew to keep the project costs down”. Over fifteen shot segments made a good start for carrying out the first season of Jonathan Bird’s Blue World. The project began airing on public television in 2008. All three seasons have been succeeding up to now. Filming sharks, sailfish, sea snakes, dolphins, or whales in different parts of the world engages viewers to the amazing underwater research.

Both The Blue Planet and Jonathan Bird’s Blue World give much scientific and educative information to observers. However, Bird’s series is considered much more educational. His narration is supported by study guides available at a website with an identical title. The website is designed to assist educators in using Jonathan Bird’s Blue World effectively. The story of the narrator includes detailed educative material sustained with scientific data.

It is obvious that nature related programs involve the issues connecting protection of the environment. Jonathan Bird’s Blue World is a clear evidence of the above stated assumption. The cinematographer mentions that, “We treat the oceans as both garbage can and grocery store”. The series appeals to the audience requesting to manage a human impact on natural ecosystems, for it is the only way for further survival. The Jonathan Bird’s Blue World acts for preservation, sustainable use of seafood and decrease of ocean pollution. Showing us the incredible marine animals in his underwater shootings, Mr. Bird tries to excite general admiration by calling to a sense of people’s responsibility for that beauty. Contrary to Bird’s project, The Blue Planet documentary does not have an overt environmental agenda. The approach is to present us the life of depth as it is and permit the ocean to express itself through its natural principles. The goal of the series is more to raise people’s awareness and show them underwater lives, which still remain unaffected by human activities.

The documentary of Jonathan Bird as well as the series of Fothergill has a music accompaniment. Bruce Zimmermann has provided Jonathan Bird’s Blue World with the original compositions including different genres of music. Jazz, classical, rock, and ethnic styles can be heard during watching the Bird’s episodes. In opposition to this, the project composed by George Fenton presents the inspiring classical tunes mainly. It might be one more reason for The Blue Planet’s perception as the documentary of a high value.

Conclusion

Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine people’s mundane everyday lives without “… means of entertainment that could break through the barriers of language and culture”. The genres of television presented through feature films, documentaries or quiz shows either become the most loved ones or remain ignored. Exactly these concepts have been considered in the research paper.

Feature films usually prevail over documentaries while choosing the program to watch. However, this consistent pattern has not an obvious reason for existing. Any genre of television might involve the viewers into the ludo-educative media world. The clear evidence of such a statement is the above-presented documentaries on marine explorations. Owing to the colorful footage and informative narration of both projects, the observers might hesitate during choosing what to watch - an ordinary feature film or a documentary about the mysterious ocean world.

Being of documentary genre, The Blue Planet and Jonathan Bird’s Blue World are similar in basic shooting principles and ideas on research methods. However, they remain different in purposes, arrangements, and styles of exposition. Thus, the above-mentioned documentaries help us to have a closer look onto the various inhabitants of the ocean depths and feel an imaginary touch of subaquatic plants in world’s waters.

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