Planet Earth II – TV Review

It Comes Naturally

In this wildlife documentary sequel the photography is stunning, the stories are captivating and the narration is, as ever, superlative, as the BBC shows how natural history should be done.

*****

The BBC has been the place for natural history since time immemorial, and the purveyor of wisdom has been Sir David Attenborough. In that respect, very little has changed in the last 50 years, and Planet Earth II is a classic example of why. With somebody as internationally respected and adored as Attenborough at the helm, the BBC could easily have named the show Earthy McEarthface instead, and people still would have flocked to watch it in their millions.

I freely admit that I was initially sceptical about the programmebecause, like many other things in 2016, it was a sequel. It was unoriginal, and would surely use many of the pre-requisite scenes for a wildlife programme and merely repackage them. This, of course, is where I was wrong.

There was much about the show which was new, including scenes of animal behaviour (and even of certain animals themselves) which had never been captured on film before, let alone in 4K High-Definition, which is what the whole series was shot in. This is part of what made the series so entrancing – it looked fantastic. HD has always suited natural history to a tee, with its sweeping vistas and superb close-ups, and never more so than here. Individual hairs could be seen ruffled in the manes of desert lions, the sun could be seen sharply glinting through cavernous canyons, and everything had a depth and a level of detail and sharpness the likes of which I have never seen before.

This was only driven home more by the fact that the series, which was comprised of episodes on Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands and Cities, was full of thrilling individual stories of the animals concerned. The nation was gripped and terrified in equal measure by young iguanas on the Galapagos Islands being chased across the beach by razor snakes. Watercoolers swarmed with people talking about footage of the rare snow leopard in the wild, trying to bring up its young whilst being courted by aggressive males. With indelible images like these, of which there were many, this series has certainly made an impact.

So the series got the popularity factor, with its final episode even ousting The X Factor in the viewing figure stakes. There were many stories of beasts old and new, doing things never seen before. But two episodes towards the end of the run were particularly outstanding, with deserts and cities respectively shown to be thrumming with life, offering us interesting new sights. A hungry pride of lions tried to bring down a giraffe in the Namib desert. A flock of starlings made massive swoops over the Rome sky at twilight, whilst leopards ventured onto the nighttime streets of Mumbai to feed.

The moments of drama were seemingly endless, and Planet Earth II kept them coming. This was only fed further by the use of an original soundtrack, headed up by lauded film composer Hans Zimmer, which lent an epic feel to everything (much like last year’s The Hunt, scored by Steven Price). But at the heart of it all, underpinning the engrossing storytelling, the stunning visuals and the interesting moments, was David Attenborough’s narration. Imperious as ever, he knew just when to play on the dramatic, emotional and cautionary notes, and is undoubtedly the best at what he does.

And with every series that passes (his output remains impressive at the age of 90), Attenborough’s message becomes that much starker and more serious. Climate change must be stopped, in order to preserve the planet and its riches for future generations. It’s a simple message, but up against the beauty on show here, it is one which is becoming more and more urgent as time goes on. Whilst we marvel at the wonders of the natural world, and the skill of those who have brought them to us, unfortunately it may ultimately be worth nothing if we don’t heed Sir David’s closing gambit.

But there is a time and a place to start acting on this. In the meantime, at least for what remains of 2016, we can sit back and wonder at how awe-inspiring planet earth really is, whilst musing on what the future holds.

Alex Nicholson

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