HIGH­LIGHT OF THE WEEK

Sunday Herald Life - - TELEVISION & RADIO -

Sun­day Oc­to­ber 29 Blue Planet II 8pm, BBC One

SURELY, there can be few sights as life af­firm­ing as the spec­ta­cle of the 91-year-old David At­ten­bor­ough, clad in his eter­nal blue shirt, stand­ing at the prow of a ship as it ploughs across an end­less blue ocean un­der in­fi­nite blue skies, while, in the waters be­low, dol­phins skip and dive ahead of his boat, paving his way through the waves like some happy aquatic hon­our guard. Here he comes again, Earth, the real thing.

So be­gins At­ten­bor­ough’s lat­est eye-pop­ping, mind-ex­pand­ing, soul-en­rich­ing and heart-break­ing nat­u­ral his­tory epic. Once again ex­plor­ing the mys­te­ri­ous life of the oceans, Blue Planet II stands in re­la­tion to 2001’s orig­i­nal Blue Planet just as 2016’s Planet Earth II did to 2006’s Planet Earth. Partly se­quel, partly re­make, but above all sim­ply a re­turn, to re-ex­am­ine the ter­ri­tory us­ing the lat­est film­ing tech­nol­ogy: shin­ing a light into the dark­est depths in ways that were im­pos­si­ble just a gen­er­a­tion ago, then bring­ing us the re­sults in ul­tra-high-def­i­ni­tion, all the bet­ter to melt our brains. If Planet Earth is At­ten­bor­ough’s Clas­sic Al­bum, Blue Planet is his weird beard cult favourite: a quin­tu­ple vinyl psy­che-prog opus, true tales from to­po­graphic oceans, where

even the names of the pass­ing crea­tures – “Mob­ula Rays,” say, or “Kobu­dai Wrasse” – sound like the ti­tles of 20-minute kos­miche stoner jams. In­deed, some­times, At­ten­bor­ough’s nar­ra­tion be­gins to sound like he’s started recit­ing lyrics by The Fall: “As time passes, her head ex­pands and her chin gets longer. The more bul­bous the head, the more it in­tim­i­dates an op­po­nent …”

At­ten­bor­ough prom­ises “crea­tures be­yond our imag­i­na­tion,” and, man, he means it. In places – a sea cu­cum­ber end­lessly stuff­ing its face; a sea dragon sim­ply be­ing in­de­scrib­ably beau­ti­ful – it re­sem­bles what might hap­pen if there was a movie re­make of In The Night Gar­den, with a mas­sive ef­fects bud­get, and more hal­lu­cino­gens. The strangest it gets might be the kobu­dai wrasse it­self, the fe­male of which has an ex­cel­lent way of sur­pris­ing the dom­i­nant male out look­ing to breed: they some­times just turn into males, then chase old Mr Kobu­dai out of town, in face to face fights that cu­ri­ously sug­gest Don­ald Trump kiss­ing a mir­ror.

Else­where, those bot­tlenose dol­phins re­turn, to demon­strate that, yes, they can do some­thing even more life-af­firm­ing than surf along­side David At­ten­bor­ough just for the sheer joy of it. In a re­mark­able, spine-tin­gling se­quence, we see their pod flee­ing, pur­sued by a herd of huge false killer whales. On the sound­track, Hans Zim­mer’s score does the full “death im­mi­nent” fan­fare – but then, just as the whales catch them and you pre­pare for the water to run red, the dol­phins turn, start bump­ing up against them, and it turns out the whole chase was another game. These whales and dol­phins are old pals, and do this mirac­u­lous thing ev­ery year.

The heart­break comes last tonight, in a wrench­ingly sad se­quence fol­low­ing a mother wal­rus as she tries to find a place where she and her ex­hausted young pup can haul them­selves out of the Arc­tic waters and rest. Their icy shores are melt­ing around them, and safe spots are fewer and fewer. A NASA statis­tic un­der­lines the point: in the Po­lar north, the sum­mer sea ice has re­treated by 40 per cent in the last 30 years.

This, of course, is the real point of this 16-years-later se­quel. At­ten­bor­ough puts it up front in his in­tro­duc­tion: “The health of our oceans is un­der threat. They’re chang­ing at a rate faster than ever be­fore in hu­man his­tory.” How blue will our planet be 16 years from now?

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