‘Planet Earth II’ of­fers crea­tures’-eye view of na­ture

Texarkana Gazette - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Jill Law­less

LONDON—From jun­gles to deserts to moun­tains, the BBC’s epic na­ture se­ries “Planet Earth II” takes view­ers around the world—and around many gen­res of tele­vi­sion.

The for­ti­tude of a pen­guin fam­ily tugs heart­strings like a love story. The snail’s-pace courtship of a three-toed sloth is sooth­ing com­fort TV. And a life-or-death con­test be­tween baby igua­nas and writhing racer snakes is heart-in-mouth ac­tion thriller.

The seven-part se­ries, which be­gins in the U.S. on Satur­day with a simul­cast on BBC Amer­ica, AMC and Sun­danceTV, is a spec­tac­u­lar demon­stra­tion of how far na­ture pro­grams have come. And no one has been more closely linked to their evo­lu­tion than David At­ten­bor­ough, the 90-year-old nat­u­ral­ist who nar­rates “Planet Earth II.”

At­ten­bor­ough has been mak­ing wildlife doc­u­men­taries for so long that, when asked about the big­gest tech­no­log­i­cal change he’s seen, sug­gests “the shift from black-and-white to color” be­fore set­tling on the trans­for­ma­tive power of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy.

Speak­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press ahead of the show’s U.S. pre­miere, he said in the days of cel­lu­loid film, “I went for as long as 2 1/2 months with­out see­ing what I’d filmed.”

A decade ago, the BBC’s orig­i­nal “Planet Earth” was the first na­ture se­ries filmed in high def­i­ni­tion. The new se­ries— shot in ra­zor-sharp ul­tra-HD— uses even more tech­no­log­i­cal wiz­ardry. Sta­bi­liz­ers and drones let the cam­eras roam, cap­tur­ing crea­tures’-eye-views of leap­ing lemurs and fight­ing Ko­modo dragons. Re­mote cam­era traps al­lowed close-ups of elu­sive snow leop­ards and griz- zly bears. The re­sult is a show that gets view­ers closer to the animals than ever be­fore—and more emo­tion­ally in­volved. Broad­cast in Bri­tain in the fall, “Planet Earth II” has been sold around the world and starts air­ing this week in Canada and Aus­tralia.

At­ten­bor­ough says in the past, pro­gram-mak­ers felt “we weren’t giv­ing the view­ers the cli­max that they wanted” if a preda­tor failed to catch their prey. In real life, he said, “the fail­ure is more com­mon and more sig­nif­i­cant than the catch­ing. … Lions fail about eight times out of 10.”

Nowa­days, pro­duc­ers un­der­stand that view­ers of­ten want to cheer for the un­der­dog. When “Planet Earth II” aired in Bri­tain, mil­lions watched, caught be­tween hor­ror and hope, as newly hatched baby igua­nas tried to make it across a Gala­pa­gos beach with­out be­ing de­voured by hun­gry racer snakes.

Se­ries pro­ducer Tom HughJones said he thinks a grow­ing num­ber of fe­male pro­duc­ers has added “a lot more emo­tion” to wildlife pro­grams.

“They see dif­fer­ent things, lit­tle looks or ten­der mo­ments,” he said. “The male pro­duc­ers tend to go for the more bom­bas­tic stuff.”

The crew, who spent more than 2,000 days film­ing in 40 coun­tries, also faced the fraught ques­tion of whether to in­ter­vene in life-and-death sit­u­a­tions.

“We wouldn’t stop a preda­tor from catch­ing its prey, be­cause that’s the nat­u­ral cy­cle of things. And the preda­tor needs to eat as much as the prey,” HughJones said.

But crew mem­bers stepped in to save a fledg­ling noddy bird that had be­come cov­ered in sticky seeds.

“In cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, where you can see very lit­tle ben­e­fit of that bird dy­ing, apart from maybe a bit of fer­til­izer for the tree, it feels fair enough to help the an­i­mal out of a sticky sit­u­a­tion,” Hugh-Jones said.

It’s not just tech­nol­ogy but the planet that has changed in the decade since the first “Planet Earth.” For one thing, a ma­jor­ity of the world’s pop­u­la­tion now lives in cities.

Along­side episodes ex­plor­ing islands, moun­tains, jun­gles, deserts and grass­lands, “Planet Earth II” de­votes one episode to ur­ban wildlife—in­clud­ing Mum ba i’ s leop­ards, Man­hat­tan’ s pere­grine fal­cons and the pesky rac­coons of Toronto.

Cli­mate change is also re­shap­ing the globe and cre­at­ing new dan­gers. It wor­ries At­ten­bor­ough, who has been ex­plor­ing the beauty of the nat­u­ral world for nine decades.

He ad­mits he is not an op­ti­mist about the fu­ture of the nat­u­ral world.

“I don’t think the world is go­ing to re­cover to what it was like when I was a boy,” he said “But I am per­suaded that we can ame­lio­rate things. We can pre­vent things get­ting worse than they might be if we did noth­ing.”

At­ten­bor­ough thinks the keys to that are cut­ting waste and get­ting far more of our en­ergy from re­new­able sources. He’s among the sci­en­tists and ed­u­ca­tors be­hind the Global Apollo Pro­gram, aimed at dras­ti­cally cut­ting the cost of car­bon-free en­ergy.

At­ten­bor­ough be­lieves plen­ti­ful and cheap green en­ergy is “just out there, just beyond our reach. And all we need to do is or­ga­nize sci­en­tific re­search to solve the par­tic­u­lar prob­lems on that roadmap.”

“It’s not there yet, but it’s pos­si­ble,” he said. “And while there’s pos­si­bil­ity, there’s hope.”


n Hatch­ling marine igua­nas—just a few min­utes old—hud­dle to­gether on a rock near the sea shore where they will spend their lives in the Gala­pa­gos Islands, Ecuador. From jun­gles to deserts to moun­tains, the BBC's epic na­ture se­ries "Planet Earth II" takes view­ers around the world—and around many gen­res of tele­vi­sion. The seven-part se­ries, which be­gins in the U.S. on Satur­day with a simul­cast on BBC Amer­ica, AMC and Sun­danceTV, is a spec­tac­u­lar demon­stra­tion of how far na­ture pro­grams have come.

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