Will Smith narrates ‘One Strange Rock,’ but astronauts are the real stars

hydrothermal fields in Ethiopia
PRETTY PLANET One Strange Rock contains gorgeous images of Earth, such as these colorful hydrothermal fields in Dallol, Ethiopia.

“The strangest place in the whole universe might just be right here.” So says actor Will Smith, narrating the opening moments of a new documentary series about the wonderful unlikeliness of our own planet, Earth.

One Strange Rock, premiering March 26 on the National Geographic Channel, is itself a peculiar and unlikely creation. Executive produced by Academy Award–nominated Darren Aronofsky and narrated by Smith, the sprawling, ambitious 10-episode series is chock-full of stunningly beautiful images and CGI visuals of our dynamic planet. Each episode is united by a theme relating to Earth’s history, such as the genesis of life, the magnetic and atmospheric shields that protect the planet from solar radiation and the ways in which Earth’s denizens have shaped its surface.

The first episode, “Gasp,” ponders Earth’s atmosphere and where its oxygen comes from. In one memorable sequence, the episode takes viewers on a whirlwind journey from Ethiopia’s dusty deserts to the Amazon rainforest to phytoplankton blooms in the ocean. Dust storms from Ethiopia, Smith tells us, fertilize the rainforest. And that rainforest, in turn, feeds phytoplankton. A mighty atmospheric river, fueled by water vapor from the Amazon and heat from the sun, flows across South America until it reaches the Andes and condenses into rain. That rain erodes rock and washes nutrients into the ocean, feeding blooms of phytoplankton called diatoms. One out of every two breaths that we take comes from the photosynthesis of those diatoms, Smith adds.

As always, Smith is an appealing everyman. But the true stars of the series may be the eight astronauts, including Chris Hadfield and Nicole Stott,…

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