How lucky we are that David Attenborough is still narrating natural history documentaries. He is the supreme storyteller in this genre, a marriage made in heaven with the exquisite skills of the BBC.
It’s 10 years since the original Planet Earth series. Much has changed in the intervening years between Planet Earth II.
The technology advancements are radical and allow for stunning visuals, intimacy and access that you will see from beginning to end. But the planet has changed too.
“Never have those wildernesses been as fragile and as precious as they are today,” he reveals.
And there have been changes from 11 to 6 eps, now on Nine in Australia not the ABC. But hey we finally get it in HD, worth enduring the ads.
Episode One is Islands, with Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, Cities and A World of Wonder to follow. Another change appears to be that Attenborough is only seen at the top of the episode, not on the ground. At 90, who can complain?
Islands featured include those from Panama, Indonesia, Madagascar, Galapagos, The Seychelles, Christmas and Zavodovski Island. The episode revolves around the fauna, rather than the flora, and what a cast of characters.
There’s the three-toed pygmy sloth, so keen for a mate he will swim across water to find her. There are the komodo dragon lizards desperately guarding their partner and will fight like godzilla, and there are cute leaping lemurs jumping from tree to tree for food, like a scene out of, well, Madagascar.
The most dramatic sequence of all is easily the life and death race for baby iguanas on the Galapagos Islands. Scampering across the sand to outrun a pack of deadly racer snakes, this is the point where family television turns into the stuff of nightmares. Including for grown adults.
If you’ve never seen the march of the red crabs of Christmas Island where have you been? It’s a moving carpet of crustaceans. But they are facing the imported yellow crazy ants who have no natural predators. It’s a one-sided war.
In the sub-antarctic islands off New Zealand there’s a lonely albatross waiting for his mate. Attenborough wrings it for all its romantic drama.
Meanwhile the isolated Zavodovski Island in the Southern Ocean are “the last place on earth you’d choose to live unless you’re a Chinstrap Penguin.” There are 1.5 million of these birds on this volcanic island, more than Happy Feet can fit on screen. But the drama they endure just to find food is massive, all captured by the BBC cameras.
Punctuating all of the rises and falls of the series is a sumptuous orchestral score by Hans Zimmer.
The fact that the animals are so oblivious to the cameras up close and personal is testament to the skill and planning of the crew.
Some of the scenarios have been profiled in docos before -hopefully it won’t be going down the path of the wildebeest and crocs in subsequent episodes- but it’s hard to resist drama on such a visual and natural canvas.
Long may Mr. Attenborough reign.
Planet Earth II airs 7:30pm tonight on Nine.