“Habitat Earth” opens with a stunning shot: an aerial view of the forest of giant cranes in the Port of Oakland.
Ships arriving and leaving, says the narration of the new planetarium spectacular, carry more than cargo: Crabs, clams and micro-organisms are hitching a ride across the oceans, becoming part of new environment.
As in previous programs in the Morrison Planetarium (“Fragile Planet” and “Life: A Cosmic Story”), California Academy of Sciences again deals with the critical issue of how thoroughly the world is interconnected.
Narrated by Frances McDormand, “Habitat Earth” moves to nearby Shoreline Park, where birds dive-bomb into the water to pluck fish. Spectacular underwater photography follows otters at Point Lobos taking sea urchins to the surface, where they leisurely eat their prey.
Consequences are revealed: Sea urchins feed on kelp, which has a vital role in the marine ecosystem, and the otters' diet prevents over-harvesting of kelp by sea urchins.
“These feeding relationships extend from the smallest microbes to the largest animals,” the program explains, “forming a diverse food web that links thousands of species and provides essential energy with every meal.”
“Habitat Earth” packs a lot into its half-hour run (including the common, somewhat unnecessary segment in which a live presenter restates what the film already explained).
One of the program's best combinations of majestic cinematography and animation is in a Douglas fir forest, illustrating the mutually beneficial relationship between trees and the forest floor. Footage from six cameras and computer graphics present the fascinating imagery of a tree's root system pulling water from the soil and returning it in regular cycles of symbiosis.
This segment, created by the Academy's Visualization Studio, also shows the forest's fungal network, both above and below ground.
Morrison Planetarium Director Ryan Wyatt says the program “advances the boundaries of traditional planetarium content — which typically focuses on astronomy and space — by using digital technology to tell Earth-focused stories.”
Yet tradition prevails in the end, as “Habitat Earth” concludes with a night view of Earth from space, and lights from the planet revealing the presence of humans, responsible for their habitat.
IF YOU GO
Where: Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: Screens several times daily, between 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $24.95 to $34.95 (covers all Academy programs)
Contact: (415) 379-8000, www.calacademy.org