The BBC series Planet Earth is one of the most remarkable pieces of documentary filmmaking ever produced. Working with groundbreaking high definition cameras and a massive worldwide crew, the series captured remarkable images of nature that have been thrilling audiences since it premiered in 2006.

The breathtaking images worked fine on TV, but occasionally the show felt so large in scale that it demanded a larger canvas. Fortunately, Planet Earth co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield felt the same way and simultaneously shot a feature film entitled Earth for Disney, while they were filming the series for the BBC.

“The two projects were commissioned simultaneously, so we literally began both at exactly the same time,” says co-director Alastair Fothergill. “To make a movie on the scale of Earth with all the locations and all the difficult behaviour, the budget would have been astronomical.

“So by working the two budgets in parallel, both projects benefited a great deal. We think that they’re wonderful companion pieces partly because the big screen and the surround sound offers an experience so much richer than what you’d get on even a high definition television.”

Linfield also felt that there were benefits to gearing Earth towards the big screen that just couldn’t be achieved in the BBC series.

“The great thing about a movie is that you’ve got 85 minutes of people’s uninterrupted attention and that allows you to design a very different storyline. We crafted a storyline for the film with three main characters (polar bears, elephants, and humpback whales), whereas the television series was habitat based.

The scale of the project was gigantic — over three years and 2,000 days of filming — but the message is surprisingly intimate, highlighting the natural beauty and tight-knit relationships that connect all species on the planet.

As Linfield puts it, “Amongst all the bad news we really hope that people will feel that Earth is a celebration of our planet and visual evidence of the fact that there’s still plenty left to fight for.”

Opening day

• Earth opens on Wednesday — Earth Day — in theatres across Canada.

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