BBC's 'Human Planet' goes to extremes

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THE DOCUMENTARY "Human Planet"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on Discovery

REASON TO WATCH From the folks who brought you "Planet Earth" and "Life."

WHAT IT'S ABOUT This Discovery co-production with the BBC's heralded Natural History Unit was three years in the making, filming in remote locations in 40 countries. And it is all about . . . people.

The film will air over six hours, although the British version -- which aired in the U.K. in early January -- was an eight-parter that wrapped up with a visit to New York City, among other cities. (It included segments on beekeepers and rat-catchers in the big town.)

The U.S. edition eschews the urban jungle for the real one. Sunday's episode, for example, is titled "Life at the Extremes," and visits a village in Indonesia where people still hunt whales; tribesmen in Africa who literally steal food from lions; a Mongolian boy who trains an eagle to hunt, and New Guinea tribesmen who build houses in very tall trees.

MY SAY This is almost a redundant observation but . . . of course, "Human Planet" is a marvel of photography and photojournalism.

As seen through the all-seeing lens of "Human Planet," the world is large beyond comprehension, where people and cultures -- bless them -- are actually untouched by "Jersey Shore" or haven't a clue who Khloe Kardashian is. There are people who build tree houses in New Guinea because that's what they do, and have done for millennia. There are hunters who chase a pride of lions away from their kill so they don't have to chase down the wildebeest themselves.

But what's missing here is plain old human curiosity.

Producers too often forget to ask why -- why (for example) build a house in the trees? Wouldn't it be better to build it on, um, the ground? The result is that the viewer is left with a series of vignettes that are visually arresting and inherently interesting, but ultimately don't tell you much about the people they focus on.

BOTTOM LINE Another Discovery/BBC beauty, but short on answering obvious questions.

GRADE B+

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