Patrick Stewart

Earth

Interviewed by Ann Kelly

“By the year 2030 there won't be any polar bears in the wild. That's only 23 years away. ”

Patrick Stewart's dulcet tones provide the narration for wildlife documentary film extraordinare Earth. His voiceover takes the viewer on a journey from pole to pole, focussing on many of the planet's enthralling creatures and environments along the way. He spoke to BBC Movies about the film.

How did you come to narrate Earth?

What we have here is in part a condensed version of the television series, Planet Earth. That series was the only time in my life I have made an appointment to see [something], and nothing could make me break it. In fact we recorded it, and then used to replay it just after we'd watched it, to see some of those astonishing sequences again. And there is an awful lot of new material, that wasn't in the television series.

So, I was a huge fan of the series. And I found myself, as one does, in the Bahamas, on another project. To my astonishment and delight, I found that Alisdair, the producer of the film was also on the same project, so I asked if I could meet him, and gushed like the biggest fan, asking him all the questions I had, "How did you do this, how did you get the camera there?" and so forth. Then a few months later I was asked, "How would you like to narrate the feature film version of Earth?" I was absolutely thrilled.

EarthWhat makes this film special?

The team the BBC have down in Bristol are the best in the world at this, and I don't think that there's anything finer than the work they've done on this one. So the film shows us some of the most glorious aspects of the natural world, and tells us that it's an absolute freak that planet Earth exists anyway. It's only due to the extraordinary tilt of the Earth in its relationship to the Sun that we have the ecology, the wildlife, the plants that we do have.

But there's more to the film, because it has a potent message about the peril that faces our planet, and particularly its wildlife. At the end of the film there is a horrifying statement that tells us, after we've been following a polar bear through the film, that it is possible that by the year 2030 there won't be any polar bears in the wild. That's only 23 years away.

Is there a particular knack to narrating a wildlife film?

Well, I watch these films a lot, and of course I've listened to the master, David Attenborough. He's an absolute genius. His style and technique is flawless. I feel a bit intimidated in following in his footsteps, because he is the master.

When I first started talking to them about how we were going to do this, I had said, "my instinct is to underplay." In this film, the images are so powerful, and there's this massive monumental score by George Fenton, played by the Berlin Philharmonic, so the spoken part needed to be sensitive. In fact, I've always felt about narration, that if the viewer is not aware he's being narrated to, that's got it right. It should be almost subliminal.

Was there a particular sequence or animal that particularly captured your imagination?

Earth

One of the treats of this was that I got to see some sequences that I'd loved from the series over and over, and never tired of them. There were sequences that made me laugh, every time that I saw them. When the duck chicks are launching themselves out of that tree, it's one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

There is an opening shot of the rainforest, looking down on the canopy, that is one of the most beautiful pieces of film I have ever seen, but for absolute glory, there is a sequence where sailfish are attacking a whole shoal of other fish, and the ballet that is played out as these almost prehistoric looking creatures try to get their supper is astonishing. There's also one shot, the first time that you see the lynx, in the Taiga forest. I took about a dozen people to see the film yesterday, and I swear there was a jolt as the lynx turned round and looked straight in the camera, It feels as if it's looking straight at you.

How do you want Earth to affect people who see it?

They will be amazed and delighted and astonished at what they see. And then I want them to reflect on how fragile everything they've seen actually is. It is possible that their children, or their children's children, might never see these animals. All they'll have left is film. No polar bears in the wild by 2030.

Earth opens in UK cinemas on Friday 16th November 2007.