A chill­ing ac­count of the ape’s fast-track to ex­tinc­tion

The Daily Telegraph - - Television & Radio -

Along with pan­das and baby seals, orang­utans are an ir­re­sistible sym­bol of man’s in­hu­man­ity to the rest of the planet. They have big, wise eyes and a deep-set melan­choly. It’s no easy feat com­mu­ni­cat­ing ex­is­ten­tial angst sus­pended up­side down from a tree, yet this al­ways-per­turbed-look­ing great ape man­ages it. Thus vet­eran nat­u­ral his­tory doc­u­men­tar­ian Rowan Mus­grave was al­ready push­ing on an open door in Red Ape: Saving the

Orangutan (BBC Two), his por­trait of a species on a fast-track to ex­tinc­tion.

The orangutan pop­u­la­tion has de­clined pre­cip­i­tously, we learnt, as its nat­u­ral habi­tat in Bor­neo is rav­aged to make way for lu­cra­tive palm oil plan­ta­tions. The film tugged ef­fi­ciently at the heart­strings. It also ex­plained how each of us was com­plicit in the dev­as­ta­tion. Palm oil is an in­gre­di­ent in fast food and con­fec­tionery. The im­pli­ca­tion was that ev­ery time we chomp a burger or cho­co­late bar, we are threat­en­ing the ape’s fu­ture.

The doc­u­men­tary dou­bled as a chill­ing case study in how po­lit­i­cal up­heaval im­pacts on the nat­u­ral world. Three-quar­ters of Bor­neo lies within Indonesia and the coun­try’s slide into dic­ta­tor­ship with the com­ing to power of Gen­eral Suharto in 1967 was, the film ar­gued, the worst thing to hap­pen to the orangutan. Un­der Suharto, in­dus­trial-scale log­ging was un­leashed upon Bor­neo, wip­ing out vast tracts of the ape’s rain­for­est home.

Quixot­i­cally, the tran­si­tion to­wards democ­racy in the Nineties deep­ened the predica­ment fur­ther. As power was dis­persed to the re­gions, a push to­wards palm oil cul­ti­va­tion be­gan – a lifeblood to ar­eas deep in poverty.

One dis­ap­point­ment in the film was the ab­sence of In­done­sian contributors. We met care work­ers from Bor­neo, but the talk­ing heads were mostly Western­ers. There was more than a whiff of con­de­scen­sion as Indonesia’s shoddy shep­herd­ing of its rich nat­u­ral her­itage was dis­cussed by out­siders.

Red Ape’s hero­ine was Dr Karmele Llano Sánchez, founder of a res­cue cen­tre in Bor­neo. Top-level cock­le­warm­ing en­sued when we met the shel­ter’s or­phaned orang­utans, cuter than a toyshop’s cud­dly toy aisle as they were carted en masse by wheel­bar­row.

Their plight and Sánchez’s work felt slightly de­tached from the broader is­sue of Indonesia’s en­vi­ron­men­tal record. Mus­grave could, in par­tic­u­lar, have done bet­ter in delv­ing into the an­i­mal traf­fick­ing that is adding to the orang­utans’s woes (are they smug­gled abroad? How com­mon­place is it to keep apes as pets in Indonesia?).

Still, the cutesy mo­ments were ir­re­sistible. If Red Ape was a stealthy at­tempt to win us over to the wider ar­gu­ment re­gard­ing sus­tain­able farm­ing, it suc­ceeded ef­fort­lessly.

The glob­alised un­der­pin­nings of mod­ern block­buster tele­vi­sion are else­where il­lus­trated by Net­flix’s new who­dunit. Safe is writ­ten and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced by Amer­i­can crime doyen Har­lan Coben, fea­tures his coun­try­man Michael C Hall with a wonky Bri­tish ac­cent, is part-fi­nanced by the French team be­hind trag­i­cally cur­tailed bonkbuf­fet Ver­sailles and set in a gated com­mu­nity some­where in Eng­land.

Of these many com­po­nents the most egre­gious is Hall, best known for se­rial killer drama Dex­ter. Here he’s baf­flingly cast as Tom De­laney, a wid­owed sur­geon search­ing for his miss­ing daugh­ter. The role re­quires the but­toned-down ac­tor to en­gage in “ban­ter” and say stuff like “oi!”.

Lots of other things about Safe felt rick­ety too. Coben’s take on mod­ern Bri­tain was stagy, from the cheeky chap­pie mil­lion­aire (Nigel Lind­say) who fired off in­nu­en­dos in the man­ner of Sid James to the tipsy Irishman (Em­mett Scan­lan) lark­ing with the fam­ily while chug­ging a lager. There was also a frisky French teacher (Au­drey Fleu­rot) po­ten­tially car­ry­ing on with one of her stu­dents and a pair of hard-charg­ing lady cops – Han­nah Arter­ton and Sherlock’s Amanda Ab­bing­ton – who didn’t get on.

Just like the pacy thrillers that have made Coben a best­selling au­thor, Safe is all about the plot. Tom was re­quired to play Cluedo by de­duc­ing which of his friends had a hand in his daugh­ter’s dis­ap­pear­ance. Should sus­pi­cion fall on the best pal (Marc War­ren) with whom he shares a com­pli­cated past? What about the night­club owner with a con­nec­tion to Tom’s dead wife?

Coben made ev­ery one of his char­ac­ters feel plau­si­bly sin­is­ter and tossed in many cliffhang­ers. Safe may be hack­neyed and writ­ten to for­mula, but the mys­tery was as­sem­bled with a watch­maker’s eye and the fan­dango whirred by with ruth­less ef­fi­ciency.

Red Ape: Saving the Orangutan ★★★★ Safe ★★★

Save this species: BBC Two’s Nat­u­ral World asked what hope re­mains for the orangutan

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