If the title of National Geographic docuseries Welcome to Earth sounds like a slogan intended to invite aliens to earth, you are not far off the mark. An interstellar tourist, considering whether to take the trouble and spend some free time on the planet, can be easily persuaded by this six-parter, which showcase the planet’s hidden wonders and untouched beauty.
Towards that goal, this series more than succeeds. It is a downright stunning showcase of the planet’s varied remote corners and comes loaded with a lot of of little insights and tidbits that are doled out almost every few minutes of its runtime.
The show explores a unique location with each and every episode. The visuals truly evoke awe and wonder. It is often said that most technological innovations in filmmaking became possible due to the human desire to take a close look at nature. And even today, the best filmmaking technology in the world remains with nature cinematographers.
It is apparent while watching the docuseries that you need highly specialised cameras for very specific purposes and conditions the nature throws at you. Welcome to Earth is an incessant feast of visuals, and proves that many places on the earth elicit a sense of alien, so different they are from the rest of the world.
But Welcome to Earth’s undoing is that a big Hollywood star like Will Smith is at its helm as narrator and audience surrogate. It ensures that the focus stays mostly on him, and the natural world gets relegated to the second spot.
Smith does what he always does in movies: ooze charm, and act. Many of his emotions do seem genuine, to be fair. For instance, in the first episode when he descends to the depths of ocean, his unease seems natural. Most of it, however, is clearly scripted.
That, in itself, is not such a bad thing. Every nature documentary is scripted to a point. Also, having somebody inexperienced braving their fears to venture into such dangerous places as, say deep sea, is actually relatable, and the actor, to his credit, does a good job in making himself look and sound sincere. He is also funny at times.
But all that is still not an alternative to an actual expert who knows what they are talking about when they describe the things you are looking at. This is why BBC’s documentaries narrated by Sir David Attenborough have been so successful. He is a professional naturalist, and knows what he is talking about.