Imagine this: it is a typical Thursday night and you find yourself trying to choose a movie to occupy your time. You are in the mood for a film that could both thrill and provoke thought. Sound familiar? Before you settle on the most recent blockbuster, consider a less conventional cinematic experience, one that offers excitement, stimulation, and raw truth. Although a documentary on invasive species was hardly what you had in mind, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” gives an experience well worth the time.
People generally do not become involved in a problem unless they are directly effected by its outcome. The film examines several areas of the world where the havoc invasive species have wreaked on the environment has directly effected humans. In New Orleans, an invasion of a termite has led to the destruction of the historic homes in the French Quarter. In Guam, children are being attacked by the foreign Brown Tree Snakes. Out of all the examples given, most alarming was the situation in Lake Victoria, Uganda, with water hyacinth. A beautiful and harmless looking plant has directly lead to countless crocodile bites and diseases inflicted on locals. The species had completely canopied the lake, clogging fishing lines and creating stagnant pools. Without the flow of water, diseases such as malaria, have begun to spread more quickly. They have also created waters ideal for crocodiles. As the crocodile population sky rockets, the fish population stays the same. With the lack of food, the crocodiles seek human flesh to satisfy their palate. By bringing light to how invasive species directly effect humanity, the movie uncovers a moral underside the issue. Many scientists may argue that the death of native species is in itself a moral issue, and should have been more heavily focused on in the film. In reality, the percent of the population who are emotionally moved into action over a lost species of plant is very minimal. By focusing on how invasive species pose a threat to humans and not just native species, the film-makers inspire viewers into action; a feat that would otherwise be very difficult to accomplish.
Some may criticize the film for over-dramatizing the problem of invasive species in order to draw viewers. In many ways, this can be distracting to viewers seeking the model unimaginative documentary. However, for the rest of America, the exhilarating methods National Graphic employs are exactly what scientists in the field of preventing the spread of invasive species need. The hype caused by the film will cause a domino effect of awareness. People may find themselves checking their shoes for New Zealand mud snails or avoiding planting foreign species to avoid their spread. While the documentary offers enjoyment over merit, perhaps hype is exactly what is necessary for this issue. So next time you find yourself in the position of not knowing which movie to watch, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” should be the obvious choice: for entertainment that will also inspire action.
An invasive species, identified as Miconia calvescens, has caused a widespread scare in Hawai’i over the past decade. Recently added to the Hawai’i State Noxious Weed List, this plant has caused major destruction across thousands of acres of all of the Hawaiian islands. Miconia are capable of growing to be around fifty feet tall, with enormous oval-shaped leaves that cast an overbearing shadow across the ground floor of Hawaiian tropical jungles. They were introduced in 1961 as a house plant from South America, when they quickly dispersed from homely gardens to take over surrounding land. Exchange of the plants between gardeners greatly facilitated the growth of the plant throughout all of the Hawaiian islands.
The threat that Miconia pose is one of habitat destruction. They quickly grow into large shrubs or medium sized trees that take up a lot of area, and their leaves have gained the name “Purple Plague” and “Green Cancer” as a result of their coloring, a dark shade of green on top, and a purple shade on bottom. The size of the leaves is what causes the most damage; they are so large that they shade the bottom of the tropics from the sun by forming an expansive canopy that blocks any light from entering the lower floors of the jungle, as well as funneling rain in hard streams that beats the soil and strips it of any nutrients. The canopy of leaves deprives other species of the sunlight they need to perform the light-dependent stages of photosynthesis, and ultimately kill these native species of Hawai’i.
Greg Asner, an ecologist who works with the National Geographic team on eradicating this invasive species from the Hawaiian islands, has ingeniously changed U2 spy planes from the cold war to use to take light-sensitive images of entire forest canopies, and compares the images to measured light reflection readings from the air and from the ground, to identify large areas of Miconia growth, which teams are then able to search for and uproot. This is a very complex, and rather interesting, method of localizing invasive species, however it appears it may be too slow to get rid of a species that grows so fast. Unfortunately, other options would likely include harsh chemicals that could harm nearby native species, so it seems that, for now, the solution will work as long as teams work quickly. Preserving the biodiversity in the Hawaiian islands is essential, so eradicating this invasive weed should become a large effort to ensure success.
Even if you have no idea what invasive species are or what they cause, watching Strange Days on Planet Earth will practically turn your non-existent opinion into one that sounds educated and informed. This short film is dedicated to showcasing an issue that may not seem like an issue at all to some people, and the seriousness of the topic among scientists and ecologists.
The film premiers the origins and effects of a variety of invasive species, as well as counters to them and public/professional opinions. The video remains under an hour, but covers a host of topics and species, so content is minimal in quantity but maximum in quality. Which is excellent because people aren’t very inclined to watch extensively long videos regarding things they’ve never heard about. The pacing is such that a newcomer to the topic will not have any trouble following along, yet a veteran of the issue will still learn a thing of two. As a result, the length and pacing of the video are optimal for allowing the viewer to learn while still remain entertained. Also, the switching between CGI effects, interviews, and actual video ensures no one part of the movie gets too monotonous and slow.
However, not everything about this movie is perfect. The above mentioned CGI effects are…not even passable, to put it bluntly. This would not be the case if I wouldn’t have recently learned that Finding Nemo was released two years before this film in 2003 with incredible CGI. And with the funding of National Geographic, one would expect the effects in this movie to be better. There are some issues with the content of the film too, regarding the interviews and tone of the movie. The interviews are informative and interesting to hear (especially about the termite problem in New Orleans) but they are too repetitive. They seem to be the same 2-3 people or experts doing all the talking; a little more variety in the people interviewed would have been nice. The tone of the movie was my biggest criticism though. It was appropriate in some cases, but over the top in others. At times the narrator made it sound as if this is going to be the apocalypse or some other world destroyer, all while sounding preachy. The film did convince me that invasive species are an issue, but it did not sway me to believe that this is the equivalent of a nuclear war. However, others may find the tone to not be an issue.
All together, the film does provide an array of knowledge for all members of the audience to gain, all while keeping them entertained and interested. If one can overlook the terrible CGI, the repetitiveness of the interviews and the sense of doom and gloom surrounding certain parts, this film is an excellent short documentary regarding an issue many don’t know about.
In April 2005, National Geographic released a documentary series entitled “Strange Days on Planet Earth.” After having watched Volume I, I must say that National Geographic did a great job of conveying their message while also captivating the audience. The film discusses invasive species around the planet, the devastating effects that they cause, and how humans are exacerbating the problem.
Volume I starts with Edward Norton dramatically alluding to the devastation of our planet. In an ominous and spooky opening, Norton uses the connotations of the word “alien” to set the mood of the film. Even though, in this context, the world “alien” is referring to non-native species, after the first five minutes of the film the audience is entranced in the film. This catching opening combined with varying cinematography and special effects makes the documentary interesting and quite captivating. “Strange Days on Planet Earth: Volume I” covered a variety of invasive species and linked them in a way that was both interesting and provocative. It covered topics like water hyacinth in Uganda causing unusable water, termite infestations in New Orleans destroying infrastructure and houses, miconia in Hawaii making the ground unstable by killing off other species and leading to landslides, and the film clearly linked invasions of non-native species with the extinction of native species.
National Geographic’s “Strange Days on Planet Earth: Volume I” is a fascinating and informative documentary on the invasive species that plague our planet. The movie educates watchers on ways that humans are making the problems worse by causing the spread of many species to non-native lands and informs them of some of the many problems that people are facing all over the planet because of invasive species in their homeland. I believe it is important for people to understand human-caused problems in our world so in the future they can be prevented and I would recommend the documentary to anyone.
Strange Days on Planet Earth is a recent example of producer and writer John Rubin’s extraordinary documentary production abilities. The first episode of this series, “Invaders,” explores the current state of invasive species throughout the world. In the hour long episode host and narrator Edward Norton follows experienced researchers as they investigate invasive species that range from Formosen Subterranean termites in New Orleans to Water Hyacinth that wreak havoc in Uganda. “Invaders” is effective in portraying the scope and range of the invasive species problem in a compelling manner.
This episode of Strange Days on Planet Earth begins with dramatic music composed by three time Emmy nominee Sheldon Mirow. The modern music and a playful mystery theme give the documentary an unusual light hearted tone. This tone contrasts to the sobering facts about invasive species- in the United States alone 35-43% of endangered species are effected by invasives (pbs.org).
The first discussed invasions are of aquatic invaders in the San Francisco Bay. These are introduced alongside marine ecologist Jim Carlton, who is researching aquatic species in New England through a series of rapid inspections. The second invasive species to be discussed, Formosan subterranean termites, is introduced with a humorous scene of a piano falling through a rotted and termite infested wooden floor. John Rubin then continues to describe the havoc termites wreak in New Orleans, and the solution used by researcher Claudia Reigal to control the damaging insects.
The episode goes on to describe multiple other sites of species invasion and the tactics researchers and citizens alike are taking to eradicate the pests. At Lake Victoria the episode takes a personal twist as it explores the damaging effects Water Hyacinth has on residents, including increased rates of dysentery and shistomaisis. Here the documentary focuses on Ugandan researcher James Ogwang and his extensive efforts to remove Water Hyacinth from Lake Victoria.
In “Invaders” John Rubin manages to make the threat of invasive species relevant and comprehensible. The documentary episode covers the reason for recent surge in spread of invasive species and the three basic ways in which invasive species can be dealt with: mechanical, biological and chemical treatments. Emphasis is placed on the responsibility of the community and the individual to prevent and manage species invasions with mention to honorable groups such as the “Weed Warriors” who fight against Ice Plant invasion in their own community. This episode presents the invasive species threat in an engaging manner which makes the information accessible and relevant.
In the National Geographic documentary series, Strange Days on Planet Earth, narrator Edward Norton introduces the increasing global change related to invasive species as a mystery that the film attempts to solve by providing the audience with clues of such alien invaders. Along the way, Norton elaborates on some of the ecological and social effects these aliens have affected along the way. As expert ecologist Jim Carlton featured in the film explains, these aliens are spreading disease and devouring buildings with more and more arrivals every year.
The film is well organized, presenting each successful invader and showing its harmful effects in a visually interesting matter to ensure the viewer is captivated by the issue at hand. For example, to illustrate the fast movement of many insect species around the world, train wheels are juxtaposed with millipede legs. Flashback-style film clips keep the viewer intrigued and interested in the origin stories for many of the aliens.
Besides being visually interesting, the documentary also contains a great deal of valuable information. Creatures from termites in New Orleans to water hyacinth in Lake Victoria are highlighted, and the consequences of their invasions are detailed. In the ideal hot and sticky climate of New Orleans, termite arrivals from Asia make themselves right at home and destroy homes as well as outcompete native species by having the ability to nest anywhere. In Uganda, the water hyacinth covered up to 80% of the shoreline at one point, preventing fishermen from moving in the lake and getting sufficient catches to feed themselves and their families. It also blocks sunlight, causing the death and rotting of other species and thus decreasing water quality and serving as an impetus for many waterborne diseases. Possible methods of control are discussed, including poison for termites and biocontrol with weevils for the hyacinth.
Another valuable aspect of the documentary is its message to the audience to examine the world through a different lens. As Norton stresses, ignorance is seldom bliss and we must be responsible for our own actions. If we push our luck by carelessly transporting species from port to port in ballast tanks, our planet will eventually become one continent in which enormous amounts of extinction may occur. In my opinion, this documentary does a fantastic job of providing an overview of some effects alien species have on their new homes and makes an impression on the viewer by highlighting the dangers of the globalization of species.
Invasive species is currently one of the most threatening problems in today’s world to both the environment and to national economies. Even though a majority of people probably do not realize the extent to which this problem has elevated, the consequences are continuously multiplying around the world.
National Geographic’s documentary, “Strange Days on Planet Earth”, tries to shed light on the mysteries and issues posed by numerous invasive species across the globe. Edward Norton expertly narrates the story behind the countless alien species that have wreaked havoc in many ecosystems. The film discusses the indicators and the effects that invasive animals have on their new homes and the native species who reside in them. The main consequences of this issue include increases in outbreaks of disease, famine, and the extinction of native species. This documentary also explains how humans have contributed a massive amount to the feasibility of one species traveling to other environments. While most invasive species are not able to sustain themselves in new places, this film highlights a few examples of successful invasive species; that is successful in both surviving and destroying the previous structure of that particular area. These examples include the termites of New Orleans, the zebra mussel, and the Mediterranean fruit fly; each of which have caused billions of dollars worth of damage. While most invasive species, once settled into their new homes, are very difficult to eradicate, Strange Days on Planet Earth does a great job of illustrating the methods that people are using to try to control and eliminate these animals. For example, the water hyacinth, an invasive plant native to South America, had begun to completely take over Lake Victoria. The populations of hyacinth has since then been greatly reduced due to the introduction of the weevil (herbivorous beetles native to North America) into the lake. This method of introducing a new predator to get rid of an invasive species is referred to as bio control.
Overall, this documentary successfully portrays the potential catastrophic effects that invasive species can have around the world as well as the actions people are taking in an effort to slow and even reverse these effects. The film also leaves the viewer with the notion that these isolated problems being posed by invasive species may just be a warning for the most massive extinction on planet earth since the age of the dinosaurs; a message that is sure to resonate in the viewers’ mind well after the documentary’s conclusion.
The United States, part of an expanding “global economic system,” is by no means self-sufficient when it comes to international trade. Since its predominant output lies in innovation technology and abstract ideas, the country is heavily dependent on exportation to sate the voracious demands of its consumer base. And as is the habit of world markets to, one way or another, fill any and all potential economic niches, coastal harbors are seeing an almost exponential increase in international shipping traffic, and like the symbiotic remora – pelagic marine fish that stick to sharks for faster transport – aquatic invasive species are shuttled along as well. These critters’ motions take a variety of forms – immigration by cargo, ballast water exchange, et cetera – and all are of concern to marine ecologist Jim Carlton, who operates out of San Francisco Bay. In the film “Strange Days on Planet Earth,” he tracks the rising rate of destructive aquatic invaders through Rapid Assessment Surveys (RAS), and is dismayed by the dismal ratio of native to alien species in the Bay area.
According to Carlton, paralleling the relentless growth in global transportation is an almost invisible (but relatively astronomical) increase in aquatic invasive species introductions to U.S. waters. Assuming that human shipping is the principle means by which species that, under normal conditions would be unable to survive the “odyssey” of trans-oceanic travel, circumvent their physical limits, every new ship involved in the global trade network increases the possibility that an alien species could successfully establish itself wherever said ship makes port. The fact that, according to the film’s website, the value of total imports increased from US $192 billion in 1965 to $3.3 trillion in 1990 provides obvious incentive to foreign companies to continue manufacturing products for export, so this trend is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. But this economic gain translates into an ecological disaster: Carlton describes it as an almost continuous game of “Russian Roulette,” in that “[humans] spin a new species into the environment and the potential for catastrophic impact to society, to the economy, to the environment is always there.”
The main investigator (Carlton) and his team approached the problem – the fact that American bays and harbors are practically brimming with foreign entities, all potential suspects in future invasions – primarily by simply conducting tests to understand the extent of the infestation. While knowledge on the inner workings of an invasion is lacking, and his RAS testing is important, Carlton’s inaction is key: it demonstrates that the invasion of the U.S. coast by aquatic alien species is so widespread that eradication, even with adequate funding, does not seem to really be a viable option any more. However, the mathematical principle of chaos theory (also known as the “butterfly effect”) could potentially be applied to the circumstances of an invasive species to explain why. Basically, chaos theory encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions – what this means is that small differences (in this case, the introduction of an invader) in the initial condition of a dynamical system (or the foreign ecosystem an invader is introduced to) may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system, if the invader finds the system hospitable. Or they might not have any effect whatsoever. This inherent inability to know for sure is exactly the reason why weather can only be accurately predicted out to a certain time – the infinitesimal changes that constantly take place (and from which spawn more changes) make further prediction impossible (the rest is extrapolation). In the context of aquatic invasive species, the film seems to understate the fact that the majority of invasions fail. The ones that succeed do so as a result of very specific environmental circumstances (predators or the absence of such, available niches, climate, season, location of insertion, availability of appropriate food, et cetera), and because these circumstances together comprise a fundamentally complex and random system, one built off of chaos, it seems like prediction of individual invasions (the “if’s and when’s”) is impossible. The only action that could be taken is preemptive and preventative in nature. That is, federal mandates that ballast tanks be disinfected or refilled in the open ocean; closer inspection of incoming and outgoing vessels; greater use of remote/infrared sensing; anything and everything that could potentially reduce the chance of a successful foreign invasion. Because, judging by the fact that 99% of the San Francisco Bay area by mass already constitutes foreign species, preventing (not to mention predicting) every invasion seems to be beyond the realm of human control.
“When Everything Moves Everywhere, What Will Survive?”
National Geographic’s “Strange Days on Planet Earth” captures the intensity, immediacy, and growing problems that are stemming from the spread of invasive species. With visual stimuli, harsh realities of destroyed environments presented, and the impact that individual actions can have to help this growing problem, this film effectively draws in the audience and forces us to face the seriousness of this epidemic. James Carlton emphasizes this by saying, “If we change our lenses a little, you can start to see the drastic changes of our world.”
The film highlights that plants and animals are being found in areas that they once were not found. In fact, over ninety-nine percent of marine life in the San Francisco bay area originated from another place in the world. The cause of this problem correlates with the acceleration of transportation, and with that, a surplus of invasive species that are contributing to “extinction on an epic scale” (National Geographic).
From red fire ants in America to the Brown Tree snake in Guam, invasive species are clearly identified in most parts of the world. While some may not be initially harmful, others threaten ecosystems and pose serious health issues. For example, an invasive termite invaded the New Orleans area, destroying homes, structures, and overall communities in its path. Crates made of local wood were sent to New Orleans at the end of the Vietnam War, and it soon became evident that the wood was responsible for carrying terminates across waters to their new home. The heat and surplus of wood, along with the fact that native termites prefer to live underground rather than above ground, are among the few reasons for the drastic incline and infestation.
As a result of these examples, I began to recognize and respect the magnitude of this problem. The movie ended by asking the audience to think about what will survive when everything moves everywhere. This idea is both shocking and disturbing. The more occurrences of invasive species taking over habitats, the less likely are native plants to survive. Our world is slowly becoming less and less diverse. And with constant changes of climate, technology, and society, we are putting our environment and ourselves at larger risks of disease and undesired consequences. I enjoyed this film because it not only thoroughly discussed invasive species, but it also brought in a personal appeal to the individual and the effects that our progression and actions have on our world.