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Blue Planet II, another massively entertaining Attenborough/BBC nature documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

Blue Planet II, the latest BBC nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough, is finally set to air in the US this Saturday on BBC America, AMC, and other networks. Here’s a five-minute preview…if this doesn’t pique your interest, you might actually be dead:

In a review of the program at The Atlantic, Ed Yong makes a bold declaration:

Blue Planet II is the greatest nature series that the BBC has ever produced.

Coming on the heels of Planet Earth II, which I thought was the best thing I watched last year, that’s really saying something. Here’s Yong on the difference between the two:

Who can forget the marine iguanas of Planet Earth II, escaping from the jaws of hungry racer snakes? But in chasing drama, some of the shows became thinner and messier. Many episodes of Planet Earth II felt like glorious visual listicles — selections of (admittedly awesome) set pieces woven together by the flimsiest of narrative gossamer.

By contrast, the threads that hold Blue Planet II together are thick and tightly woven. Each episode flows. For example, the second episode, on the deep ocean, achieves narrative depth through actual depth, sinking deeper and deeper so that each new spectacle is anchored in space. Where previous series felt like they sacrificed the storytelling craft and educational density for technical wizardry and emotional punch, Blue Planet II finally marries all of that together.

Blue Planet II was watched by more people in the UK than Planet Earth II and has seemingly influenced the UK government’s stance on pollution:

Cutting plastic pollution is the focus of a series of proposals being considered by the UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, who has said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans shown in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II TV series.

The government is due to announce a 25-year plan to improve the UK’s environmental record in the new year. Gove is understood to be planning to introduce refundable deposits on plastic drinks bottles, alongside other measures.

I got a sneak peek at the first few episodes of Blue Planet II, and it certainly is a great program. I watched it with my kids and they were riveted the entire time. After the fourth or fifth episode, my son said, “I think I like this better than Planet Earth II.” I’m not quite sure it’s peak Attenborough — I’m still partial to Planet Earth II — but it’s still a must-see and I’m certainly not going to argue with Ed Yong and my son about it.

Blue Planet II

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Having achieved spectacular success with Planet Earth II, the BBC and David Attenborough are revisiting another of their previous nature documentaries, the 2001 series The Blue Planet, “a comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans”. Blue Planet II, Attenborough promises, will use new technology and our increased understanding of the natural world to great advantage in telling the story of the animal and plant life — dancing yeti crabs! dolphins spitting to trick prey! TurtleCam! — that dwells in our oceans.

The score is by Hans Zimmer, who also collaborated with Radiohead to rework an old song of theirs for the series. Bloom, off of King of Limbs, was originally inspired by the first Blue Planet series, so it’s come full circle with its inclusion in the new series. Vox examines how Zimmer and the band adapted the song:

If you listen closely enough to Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s rework of “Bloom” for Blue Planet II, you can hear a really fascinating orchestral trick at work. They call it the “tidal orchestra” — it’s a musical effect created by instructing each player to play their notes only if the person next to them isn’t playing. The result is a randomly swelling and fading musical bed for the entire series that captures the feeling of ocean waves. It’s a captivating way to score a soundtrack for the ocean — but it also fits in with a long history of capturing randomness in music composition.

The “tidal orchestra” technique was inspired by pointillism and randomness: using small individual sounds to build a soundscape rather than starting with a specific tune. For some reason, it also reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797. (No idea what inspired Yorke’s pants though. MC Hammer? Wow.)

Planet Earth II was probably my favorite movie/show/media from the past year, so I am really looking forward to Blue Planet II.