When I was a kid, nature documentaries were a staple part of my upbringing, much like homework, Classic FM and my mum telling me to wear a coat because I would ‘freeze to death outside’ otherwise. However, when I reached what can only be described as ‘my troublesome teenage years’, I found myself rebelling to this conformity. It wasn’t through drugs, drink or earrings, but instead I decided that these nature documentaries were boring and beneath me: what more could I possibly need to learn about the animal kingdom?
Instead I turned to shows such as Skins and The Inbetweeners to satisfy my adolescent angst. However, much like a fine wine, or some cheese, I have matured and seen the error in my ways, now ready to fully appreciate the glorious world around us.
BBC One’s latest offering, Planet Earth II, follows a simple formula, but that does not detract from the excellence of the programme. Combine breathtaking cinematography with the reassuring tones of everyone’s favourite adopted grandfather, David Attenborough, and you have an hour’s worth of truly gorgeous television.
Following the success of the original series, Planet Earth II looks at a variety of different habitats, with each episode focusing on one specific environment. The first week looked at islands, and the marvellous breadth of species that dwell on these often remote chunks of land.
The introduction is whimsical and charming as we follow a pygmy sloth on its genteel quest for love, which involves climbing, swimming, and generally looking just so bloody adorable at all times. The colours are vibrant and the camerawork so intimate that we feel a ridiculous level of empathy for this ball of hair that we have only just met, but things are not always so idyllic.
We visit some komodo dragons, who are always disappointingly un-dragon like, but who provide a spectacular contrast to the peaceful and meandering sloth. They fight, they bite, and they whip their tails back and forth in a way of which even Willow Smith would be proud. The brutality of the animal kingdom is on full display and one cannot help be a little bit thankful that we don’t have to constantly fight each other whenever we feel like walking to our local Sainsburys.
It really is amazing the number of emotions that we experience in such a small space of time; from joy to fear, excitement to sorrow. The battle between fledgling iguanas and racer snakes is one of the most intense and gripping bits of television I’ve seen this year (and I’ve watched a lot of Coach Trip), while watching a fairy tern attempt to incubate its broken egg nearly brought my flatmates and me to tears.
The real highlights however come at the end when the curtain is pulled back to reveal how – and how is a question I was asking throughout – they managed to capture some of the footage they did. While the secret is not much of a secret at all (patience and lots of it), there is something rather wholesome about watching grown adults getting quite so giddy about seeing some penguins in real life. Having said that, one can’t help but wonder if they have to draw straws about who films what. For every epic chase between cheetah and gazelle, there has to be someone lying in a jungle filming some ants.
Perhaps we should no longer be surprised however. Attenborough and the BBC have been forming a formidable duo for over half a century now, and the simple combination of these two British institutions is a potent one. Planet Earth II continues their fine run of form that sees no signs of abating anytime soon: after all, in an ever-changing world, there is so much left to explore.
Image: Magnus Bråth @ Flickr