Review

Apple TV+ Review: 'The Year Earth Changed' shows the pandemic from the planet's point of view

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The new Apple TV+ documentary, "The Year Earth Changed," makes a convincing case that the coronavirus pandemic gave the planet a needed break.

The Year Earth Changed is a nature documentary that begins with a striking image from the earliest days of the pandemic: A nearly empty and mostly silent Times Square sets the scene for a film that examines the huge impact COVID had, not on us, but on the world itself.

The 48-minute documentary debuts on Apple TV+ on April 16, ahead of Earth Day, and it has a simple conceit. Yes, the pandemic has wreaked all kinds of havoc on humanity. But for animals and nature, a year of us humans largely staying home has provided an unexpected boon.

Made for Apple by the BBC, it examines the difference thatfewer cars on the road, no cruise ships on the ocean, and a lot fewer people around, made. In general, the air and water got cleaner, animals' habitats got more hospitable, and animals were able to thrive.

So the challenge now, the film declares, is what will happen when the pandemic is over, and all of the changes of the last year are undone. Most of us have spent the last year viewing "back to normal" as something of a Holy Grail, but The Year Earth Changed asks us to contemplate the global downside of a return to normalcy.

Empty world

David Attenborough narrates
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+.

Filmed on five different continents, this is about "nature's extraordinary response," as narrator David Attenborough says, calling it "a global experiment of epic proportions."

The changes are big and small. We see sparrows in San Francisco, whose chirping was long drowned out by the sounds of cars. Now, they're more audible — which is likely to affect their mating rituals.

Then pollution has receded in India, to the point where mountains are now visible in some cities where they hadn't been for years. The oceans and beaches have been affected, with turtles making themselves at home on beaches normally occupied by beachgoers. Even humpback whales have found it easier to communicate.

It's a beautifully photographed production throughout, whether the footage is coming from a jungle, the high seas, or a seemingly empty American city.

Made by the BBC Natural History Unit

David Attenborough narrates
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+.

The team behind The Year Earth Changed is responsible for some of the most popular and influential nature documentaries of all time. The film was produced by the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, which is behind the Blue Planet and Planet Earth series. Attenborough, the narrator, is the 94-year-old British broadcaster who has long been associated with that BBC unit.

It's something of a coup for Apple to be in business with the makers of Planet Earth, and this film lives up to that show's exceptional photography. The difference is, the Year Earth Changed is a single movie instead of a series, and consequently it feels much more focused.

The year Earth changes back

David Attenborough narrates
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+.

"The impact of this lockdown won't last forever," says Attenborough, and the film's conclusion is that once the pandemic is over, we need to learn the lessons of the last year, and perhaps be kinder to the Earth without continuing to stay indoors.

Overall, the film is a must for anyone who enjoys the nature documentary genre and is interested in an examination of the coronavirus era that isn't thoroughly depressing.

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