Those who contend the jury is out on global warming aren’t sitting in the same courtroom as the makers of “The White Planet,” a captivating docu profiling the some strange, some adorable — but all endangered — denizens of the North Pole. Although this critters-in-the-cold venture will inevitably be compared with the South Pole-set “March of the Penguins,” this handsomely mounted, narratively convincing pic was under way before anybody knew there was box office gold in them thar snowbanks. Commercial lightning can’t be expected to strike twice on a “Penguins”-like scale, but international outlook remains promising on big and small screens.
Unlike the melting permafrost and slabs of glacier shearing away in “Ice Age 2,” this is the real thing, captured on celluloid from often breathtaking proximity by intrepid outdoor specialists Thierry Ragobert and Thierry Piantanida, and their ace lensers. As pointed out by narrator Jean-Louis Etienne — the first man to reach the North Pole solo, on foot, after a 63-day trek in 1986 — the frozen North is melting at a terrifying pace. In the past 30 years, it’s lost nearly two times the surface area of France.
A seemingly solid world is being transformed into liquid, with multiple consequences, none of them good. Docu provides ample indications that we’re all skating on progressively thinner ice.
Film boasts several terrific set pieces, starting with the birth of two polar bears in their underground ice den and the cubs’ first steps three months later when they emerge outdoors.
Other strange Darwinian sights include seals whose nostrils inflate like the dome on Jiffy Pop popcorn; the legendary narwhal (giant walrus-like creatures with unicorn-style spears); and under the ice, primitive floating entities that glow like neon confetti.
A caribou army on the march across the tundra is a rare and impressive pageant. Only the gnus of Tanzania migrate on a scale comparable with the half million caribou in the Arctic, which don’t make the trip every year but check weather conditions before setting out.
Miraculously fluid, always classy camerawork accompanies the flow of seasons. Although the narrator’s first-person voice adds to the experience, nothing is overtly instructional or over-explained. The mystery remains intact. If anything, Bruno Coulais’ choral score is often too emphatic; there’s quite enough majesty already in the imagery.