Blue Planet takes another dive below the surface
Blue Planet II takes a hard look at ocean pollution
The most watched television LONDON program in Britain last year was a nature program about gender-bending fish and dolphins that like to surf. The sevenpart BBC documentary, presented by a beloved nonagenarian naturalist focused on the disastrous impact of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, spurring politicians to vow remedial action.
The sumptuously shot series, which begins airing on BBC Earth on Jan. 20, took four years to make, with filmmakers travelling to every continent and every ocean.
It could be that “the moment is right” for a documentary on the state of the oceans, said David Attenborough, the show ’s human star, in a recent interview. “There are people worldwide talking about what we are doing about the seas.”
At 91, he is a British treasure — something like Jacques Cousteau, Carl Sagan and Jane Goodall rolled into one.
In person, Attenborough is a master storyteller. He has a shock of white hair and bright blue eyes, and speaks with the same distinctive cadence and whispered confidences that have entranced British viewers for decades.
He is also a born broadcaster, his velvety voice propelling footage of tool-using tusk fish and giant trevally fish that catch birds in mid-air.
Some of Attenborough’s previous programs have drawn criticism for pulling punches about human threats to the environment. Martin Hughes- Games, a fellow BBC producer, has argued that in one series, the footage was so jaw-dropping that it lulled viewers into a “false sense of security.”
Blue Planet II, a sequel to a 2001 series about marine life, features fish with transparent heads and a nail-biting chase scene involving a crab, eel and octopus that will make you think twice about your next frolic in shallow seas. It also addresses issues such as plastic pollution, overfishing and climate change.
Attenborough insists the BBC didn’t set out to make an “axe-grinding program.” But, he added, “If you come across the situation that we have come across, you can’t just say, ‘Well, we don’t like that because it’s an uncomfortable or awkward truth.’”
Attenborough is optimistic that a solution to the plastics problem can be found. “If we are clever enough to be able to invent it, surely we should be clever enough to be able think of ways of destroying it,” he said.
If part of the solution, as the series implies, is for a concerted global effort, what does Attenborough make of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement?
“It would be absurd to say it didn’t have an impact. It’s the most powerful nation on Earth, so of course it matters a lot.”
But at the same time, he said, “It is against the tide of human interests. I mean China, for heaven’s sake; India is behind it. The world is becoming aware of this.”
Blue Planet II was also a hit with the critics, who have called it “astonishing,” “awe-inspiring” and “playing a different sport from most of what makes it onto our screens.”
As a boy, Attenborough collected fossils and he studied zoology at Cambridge University.
He joined the BBC when he was 24, although his first appearance on television was not an overwhelming success.
In his memoir, Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster, he recalled discovering a note a producer wrote after his debut saying Attenborough was “intelligent and promising,” but not to be used again on air because “his teeth are too big.”
Now, he’s at the crest of a wave.