The beauty of being Will Smith is that if you decide to scratch items off your bucket list, National Geographic and Disney+ will dutifully mount and chronicle your adventures. Enter “Welcome to Earth,” which allows Smith to explore the world with those who do so professionally, in what amounts to a cheerful exercise in nature programming for beginners.
To be fair, celebrities have tagged along on such expeditions since time immemorial — Bear Grylls even turned dragging actors into the wild into a series — and at its best, having someone with Smith’s profile attached to such outdoorsy fare might lure in some more casual viewers. If “Welcome to Earth” serves as a sort-of gateway drug to National Geographic’s best productions or David Attenborough’s specials, then the investment will have been worth it.
Smith’s wide-eyed travels into spectacular and dangerous locales essentially cast him as an enthusiastic tour guide, a role that he freely embraces. He begins by quoting his grandmother telling him, “All the best things in life lived on the other side of fear,” and closes the six episodes by citing his desire to “connect with the planet, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.”
Others, of course, don’t necessarily have access to the same options, which in “Welcome to Earth” include plunging to ocean depths of more than 3,300 feet with a marine biologist, visiting the edge of an active volcano and scaling the side of a glacier.
Not surprisingly, Smith frequently resorts to movie references to describe the wonders he’s encountering, comparing the ocean light show to “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters.” If that’s not enough, the inordinately insistent music does the rest.
Produced by Smith’s company along with director Darren Aronofsky and others, the series certainly features spectacular cinematography, which has become standard for the genre. Each episode also carves out a window for other explorers, expanding the vision and vistas beyond a Smith’s-eye-view.
Having recently published a new memoir, Smith — who is also on the awards circuit for his role in “King Richard” — has made good on his pledge to overcome his fears and share that spirit of adventure with others. Yet given the abundance of current nature programming, “Welcome to Earth” doesn’t reach the heights of the genre, much less transport anyone out of this world.
“Welcome to Earth” premieres Dec. 8 on Disney+.
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