City Press reviews Planet Earth II

2017-02-05 06:01

Johannesburg - In the fascinating first instalment of Planet Earth II (which many call the second-greatest wildlife series in history after 2006’s Planet Earth) the world’s favourite gung-ho grandpa, Sir David Attenborough, narrates an episode on islands.

Shot as sumptuously as an epic Hollywood feature, and even more skilfully, we meet the iguana hatchlings of Fernandina Island, in the famous Galápagos Islands. After hatching from their sand nests, the sweet little cold-hearted lizards must make their way to the Indian Ocean. It’s a moving sight – until it becomes a horror movie.

Racer snakes. They can’t see very well, so if the newborn iguanas stay very still, they can escape. But once they are detected, they must run for their lives as a slithering, curling knot of racers closes in from all sides to capture their prey and crush its bones with a sickening crunch. When the episode first screened, Twitter exploded and #IguanaVsSnakes trended across the UK. There was more horror to be had in nature than in a slasher pic.

Aside from horror, romance and history, thrillers and comedy, even sci-fi, can easily be subsumed by this uber genre, the nature documentary. As the planet’s animal kingdom shrinks and photography innovates, we escape into a high-budget world of rare natural splendour.

After Islands, the 90-year-old broadcaster and naturalist narrates episodes titled Mountains, Jungles, Deserts and Grasslands.

They are all incredible viewing with characters and scenes that a top fantasy series will struggle to match. We will meet miniature transparent frogs; battling wasps; hummingbirds so exquisitely filmed that Twitter thought they were computer-generated images (CGI); the dolphins of a newly discovered jungle river; the most absurdly epic flamingo mating dance ever seen; tragic terns incubating eggs already eaten; a jaguar’s taking on a caiman; swimming sloths and majestic snow leopards.

But conservationists have expressed concerns about the escapism on offer. While producers claim series like Planet Earth II are raising awareness by getting people interested in the ever-shrinking natural world, the numbers don’t indicate TV is helping. In fact, it may be harming.

Argues Martin Hughes-Games in The Guardian: “These programmes are still made as if this worldwide mass extinction is simply not happening. The producers continue to go to the rapidly shrinking parks and reserves to make their films – creating a beautiful, beguiling fantasy world, a utopia where tigers still roam free and untroubled, where the natural world exists as if man had never been.” The problem, say critics, is getting worse. While man invades more of nature, less of man is being shown in our nature series, because viewers like you and me want to escape the harsh realities of global warming and urbanisation.

To test this theory, I returned to the first Planet Earth series. It’s true that there were way more questions about human beings 10 years ago.

It’s only in the final episode of Planet Earth II – Cities – that the urban world and humanity’s position in nature is explored. You will be stunned by the night-cam work in Mumbai, framing the survival – and threat – of leopards in the cityscape.

Ultimately, Planet Earth II is an extraordinary – and romanticised – obituary to a dying world. I’m giving it four stars anyway.

Tune in to Planet Earth II on Sunday, 5 February at 16:00 on BBC Earth (DStv184).

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