HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
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?