PLANET EARTH 2
★★★★★ FROM NOW DIRECTORS Justin Anderson, Ed Charles, Fredi Devas, Chadden Hunter, Emma Napper, Elizabeth White / CAST David Attenborough
The real Fantastic Beasts…
SHOT OVER THREE years across 40 countries, this is perhaps the most jaw-dropping nature documentary ever created. That’s thanks in part to technological advances — camera drones and miniature low-light cameras mean you’re brought closer to the animals than you would ever have imagined. In some cases, it’s a world first — the footage of the rare snow leopards in the Himalayas is the first time several have been caught on camera at once, and the feather-popping dance of the Wilson’s bird of paradise in West Papua is captured for the first time.
You may have seen some of it already: the footage of baby marine iguanas hatching from eggs under the sand of a Galapagos island beach, and fleeing for their lives from a swarm of racer snakes, went viral. No surprise: it’s as tense and as tautly edited as any action movie. Part of the brilliance of the series is that it creates characters out of individual animals: your heart will ache for the pygmy sloth swimming through the ocean to find a mate, or the chinstrap penguin battling huge swells and rocky cliffs to bring food to his babies, while their mother fends off predators and starvation, unable to leave the chicks. Sir David Attenborough himself is an endangered natural wonder — forgive us for being morbid, but at 91, there can’t be many more projects of this scope on his to-do list. But it doesn’t stop him filming an introduction from the open basket of a hot air balloon, three kilometres above a snow-covered mountain range. His voice is a little creakier, but it’s still the definitive sound of the nature doco: pleasingly professorial, but with the breathy excitement of a child. It’s wonderful. So is the score, recorded with a full orchestra, which covers the gamut from rom-com lightness to dark and brooding menace; legendary composer Hans Zimmer is on baton duty.
The series is divided into episodes by topography (Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands and Cities), and each episode spans the planet, except for the oceans — Attenborough and the Beeb probably felt they already covered that off pretty well in the Blue Planet series. (“Cities” means more than just pigeons and rats — the world’s highest concentration of leopards is in Mumbai, India, thriving amidst a city of more than 20 million people. The bower birds of Townsville in Queensland get a look-in as well.)
There’s really nothing not to like here. A few sequences might cause young’uns or the faint of heart to grow a bit pale — it’s not exactly bloodthirsty, but a few animals meet unfortunate ends; watching Komodo dragons rip apart a deer carcass is both fascinating and gruesome. But it’s an astonishing “state of the union” for the natural world — and who knows if this might the be the last we ever see of some of these rare and amazing creatures.