Empire (Australasia) - - Re.view - TIM KEEN

★★★★★ 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.

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