A more-than-worthwhile retrospective of Wolfgang Bayer’s long career as a top nature cinematographer is sabotaged by his son Tristan’s ego as he seemingly attempts to turn the whole docu into a referendum on his own future as the next in line. Combo of breathtaking shots on seven continents and relentless Hallmark-style narration (and syrupy music) makes “Earthling” play like a moist send-up of “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” — except that nobody here gets the joke. Stripping off soundtrack and starting over sparely would be cheapest, easiest way of salvaging pic, and the elder Bayer’s reputation.
White-haired, Austrian-born director of photography, an impressive presence indeed, is best known for amazing work on award-winning specials for Nova, Nature and National Geographic. But unlike Bill Murray’s Cousteau-like Zissou character, Bayer has never tried to market himself as a tube-cult adventurer.
Here, however, his best work is woven together with Imax-stiff reenactments and new footage of Bayer’s family on what’s inexplicably touted as “one last expedition.” Sun-drenched images of noxious fruit bats, butterfly storms, and white-on-white polar bears are spectacular, and Bayer’s wife and college-age daughter seem like good sports.
But son Tristan’s banal, self-dramatizing comments offer no insight into the environments seen in Technicolor glory. A newcomer to genre would never know that any of the gorgeous places on view are under threat from man.