A Perfect Planet
We’ve been looking at things all wrong. Wildlife film-makers endure all kinds of hardship, crouched in hides for weeks on end and suffering frostbite or heatstroke to get as close to animals as possible.
The mistake they’ve always made is to watch from ground level. Stormborn (BBC2) revealed a different way of seeing, a wholly new perspective — with stunning aerial photography.
At first, its pictures of a reindeer herd migrating across the snowbound tundra in Norway took a conventional view. The stolid beasts lowered their horns to face a blizzard, while the herders’ collies with frozen whiskers rounded up stragglers.
Stormborn (BBC2) revealed a different way of seeing, a wholly new perspective — with stunning aerial photography. Arctic fox cubs are seen above from the series
But then the camera leapt into the icy air to show us the herd as almost no one has ever viewed it before — apart, perhaps, from Father Christmas.
Reindeer seen from above look like a living, spinning Catherine wheel. They constantly drift in a circle 20 or 30 animals deep, so that the ones at the centre barely move and the ones at the perimeter are almost galloping. It’s a defence they have evolved to deter predators such as wolves.
If the sonorous tones of Ewan McGregor hadn’t explained what we were watching, it could even be imagined that the pattern was created by a kaleidoscope.
Equally unique aerial footage was captured as the crew followed a pod of orcas or killer whales, hunting off the coast of Shetland. It’s hard to grasp how large these animals are until you see them chasing a porpoise. They looked like a pack of rottweilers tormenting a kitten.
The drone-cam hovered above the hunt as the black-and-white orcas traced intricate, criss-crossing paths below the surface of the water. One porpoise saved itself by beaching on rocks at the shore, where the orcas could not follow, and waiting hours for the rising tide to float it to freedom — a high-risk strategy.
One environmentalist, Jeremy Rifkin, warned that wildlife faces the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs were wiped out, and that half of all species could be gone by the end of the century
No camera on a boat could have captured this drama. I was left hungry to see more footage of this sort. Surprisingly, the Beeb seemed to lack confidence that these amazing sequences would be enough to thrill us, because the documentary oversold itself cheesily.
The opening credits, swooping over a 3D map of Scotland and Scandinavia, with stabbing cellos and thunderous percussion, imitated Game Of Thrones.
McGregor intoned his lines as if he was narrating the end of the world. ‘The gales and icy blasts endure,’ he rumbled. ‘Winter, the great darkness, can be reluctant to release her iron grip.’
He might as well have thrown in a ‘yea, verily’. Sir David Attenborough was more understated on the final episode of A Perfect Planet (BBC1), though he really did seem to be narrating the end of the world.
After programmes that explained the four super-forces that maintain all life (volcanoes, ocean currents, weather systems and the heat of the sun), he turned to a fifth: ‘A force so powerful it threatens the future of life on Earth— humans.’
One environmentalist, Jeremy Rifkin, warned that wildlife faces the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs were wiped out, and that half of all species could be gone by the end of the century.
There was little new in this round-up. It largely reiterated what went before. But there were glimmers of hope — such as the children planting trees on the edge of the Sahara, and conservationists reclaiming deforested areas of the Amazon.
It served as a reminder that, when the pandemic is over, much more international co-operation is going to be needed.
Box-set of the weekend: The peerless French cop thriller Spiral (BBC4) has ended — but all eight seasons are on iPlayer for the rest of the year. The first series is raunchy, the second gory, and after that it is simply, constantly brilliant. Unmissable.
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