By Helen Young
At this year’s International Wildlife Film Festival, we will be screening the glorious and critically acclaimed ‘Planet Earth II’. In the safe hands of Sir David Attenborough, this series drew record viewing figures for the BBC last year, usurping ostensibly more crowd-pleasing shows in the ratings wars, and drawing a dedicated following in the hard-to-please younger demographics.
The accolades and adoration for ‘Planet Earth II’ are undoubtedly well deserved. Its viewing figures and the enthusiasm with which it was taken up by the wider public is, perhaps, a testament to our increased awareness of the environment and environmental issues. Most agreed that the work done here has been exemplary – although there has been some disagreement. Martin Hughes-Games, presenter of rival BBC wildlife show ‘Springwatch’ called the series “a disaster for the world’s wildlife” through its failure to address anthropocentric environmental damage. How many people, Hughes-Green and his supporters argue, could have been persuaded to use green energy, or donate to Greenpeace, or cut their carbon footprint had Attenborough embedded an environmental message in his series? However, what Hughes-Green called “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” certainly makes for wonderful viewing. If you like your wildlife shows with more wildlife and less eco-lecturing, then ‘Planet Earth II’ is a delight. The series has six episodes, focusing on different habitats:
The final ten minutes or so of each hour long episode focuses on the making of an aspect of the episode. From the point of view of budding wildlife filmmakers, these are very interesting. The trials, boredom, deprivation, and camaraderie of travelling to difficult parts of the globe in order to film animals who frequently won’t play ball are displayed with humour, honesty, and affection.
Of course, the animals and the visuals are the real stars of this series. The filmography is simply breathtaking, will full advantage taken of modern technology to get close, clear shots of the animals in question. ‘Planet Earth II’ is a follow-up series to ‘Planet Earth’, Attenborough’s similarly acclaimed series released ten years prior. In a mere ten years, much has changed in the realm of film technology, and its successor makes the most of what it now has to build upon its parent. Drone footage, for example, is used to reach wildlife in areas previously only filmable from a helicopter – and, as drones are both more maneuverable and less likely to scare the wildlife than helicopters, the move more than pays off. Similarly, the team mounted a camera on the back of a trained eagle in order to give viewers a literal ‘eagle eye’ experience of an eagle’s speedy, steep flight patterns.
Then there are the creatures themselves. There is a very good reason why social media lit up with emotion when ‘Planet Earth II’ aired on a Sunday night. The animals are not only beautifully shot, their stories are wonderfully told. A particular sequence involving baby sea iguanas and racer snakes is simply a stunning piece of television, which had hearts in mouths all over the world. A tale of two snow leopards, told via camera trap footage, gives an insight into both the habits, the precarious lives, and the elusivity of these incredible beasts.
‘Planet Earth II’ will undoubtedly to prove influential in the world of wildlife filming for many years to come. Definitely worth watching.