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MATT DAMON IS TAKING A 'JOURNEY TO PLANET EARTH'

Actor Matt Damon is not an environmental expert, nor does he play one in the movies.

But it is because of a movie that he met documentarians Marilyn and Hal Weiner and took the gig of narrator and host of their documentary series "Journey to Planet Earth," which returns to PBS with two new installments at 10 p.m. on consecutive Mondays, April 11 and 18.

"It was through Doug Liman, who directed 'The Bourne Identity,' " Damon says. "The Weiners' son worked in Doug's offices. So, in this roundabout way, I heard about them. It was total serendipity. They had sent me some scripts. They were lying around; I hadn't read them yet. During editing of the 'Bourne' movie, Doug and I were (at my house), looking at it to talk over changes he was going to make. He just looked down, saw the scripts and said, 'I know them.'

"Then I read the scripts, and they were so well put together, and they were so interesting, that I jumped at the chance to do them."

Damon narrated the four episodes of the show's second season, which aired in the spring of 2003 on PBS. This season, he also appears on-camera, perhaps hoping that his face will attract fans.

"That's what Hal and Marilyn want," he says. "That's their hope. It's the only reason they would want me to do it. If not, they'd get an expert or the guy who did 'Wild Kingdom.' The idea is to try to get kids a little more interested. Maybe it will get them to hang in and watch the shows."

Part 1 of "Journey to Planet Earth" is the first annual "The State of the Planet" special, which looks at how population and economic pressures affect the world and resources such as food and water. Filming locations include Israel, Iowa, Bangladesh, the Amazon and Nairobi, illustrating both problems and solutions.

Part 2, "Future Conditional," looks at the spread of pollution from disparate locations such as the Arctic, Mexico and California, and how contamination in one area can affect people far away.

"I watch these shows when they're finally put together," Damon says, "and it does make the world seem so small. You feel the impact of your behavior on the planet and how fragile it is. You travel around the world and see what's happening.

"The way I think of it, it's education in the best way, where you're not being preached to. You don't feel like you have to pull out a notebook and take notes. You just feel like you're getting a lot of information in a very fluid way."