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Earth: The final frontier 

The documentary Earth, a feature-length spin-off of the BBC series Planet Earth, has been playing Europe since the summer of 2007, yet it's only being released in the United States on April 22, 2009 (Earth Day). Hmm, perhaps its British creators deemed it pointless to release such a pro-environment film in a country then ruled by a heinous Republican administration bent on the destruction of our natural resources?

At any rate, the picture is finally being released stateside by Walt Disney Studios under its new Disneynature label, a welcome throwback to the days when Walt himself would personally supervise such Earth-friendly fare as The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie. And while it's hard to urge moviegoers to spend money on something they can basically catch on the Discovery Channel (and other like-minded stations) for free, there's no denying that the magnificence of the images on display is even more impressive when presented in a larger-than-life format.

In its original British presentation, Patrick Stewart handled narration duties; oddly, this fine performer -- who's quite well known on this side of the Atlantic, thank you very much -- has been replaced for American audiences by James Earl Jones. With his majestic voice, Jones introduces us to the animal protagonists of this globe-spanning piece -- among them polar bears, elephants, humpback whales and a particularly scary shark -- and discusses the various challenges most of them face, whether from other animals or from global warming. While remarkable, much of the footage admittedly has a been-there-done-that quality, although the segment on unique and colorful birds is astounding.

Earth is an enjoyable experience, but it would be wrong to simply digest the picture as a complacent moviegoer. So here's my contribution to the cause: A frequent friend of big business, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would have been right at home in the Bush administration (what was Obama thinking when he picked him?), given his abysmal indifference to wildlife and specifically his approval of a Bush administration plan to slaughter endangered wolves. Protest his actions at www.doi.gov/feedback.html or make a contribution at www.savewolves.org.

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