When there is anyone who attracts near-ubiquitous admiration in britain, its David Attenborough. The naturalist has already established a hang on our eyes and ears with an extraordinary blast of nature documentaries because the 1950s. Even into his old age, Attenboroughwho is currently 96has relentlessly continued release a new documentaries and sequels to his universally praised shows about life on earth.
His latest is Frozen Planet IIa follow-up in the series exploring the chilled reaches of our world. If that doesnt take your fancy, then also released this season certainly are a smorgasbord of Attenborough-fronted documentaries about birdsong and plants, two offerings about dinosaurs, and a sequel to 2018s Dynasties, some sort of documentary-cum-soap-opera that follows named animals because they struggle to retain power within their respective dynasty. Although he could be most closely linked to the BBC, whose Natural History Unit continues to create nearly all his documentaries, recent Attenborough shows are also commissioned by Apple TV+ and Netflix. If Earth had to provide up a planetary spokesperson for the natural world, Attenborough may be the odds-on favorite, and once and for all reason: His softly intoned reverence for the natural world has inspired a feeling of wonder for generations. He’s got done a lot more than just about anyone to create faraway landscapes into our homes within an unforgettable manner, also to remind us that people are destroying these beautiful, fragile ecosystems.
But watching the initial bout of Frozen Planet II, there’s somethingforgive methat leaves me just a little cold. All the hallmark Attenborough-isms is there: ominous strings as killer whales stalk a seal atop some pack ice. Drone shots of glaciers smashing in to the sea under the Greenland ice sheet. The staccato comedy of a Pallass cattruly natures chonkiest fuzzballas it plods following a rodent. Its all beautiful. Its Attenborough, in the end. But simultaneously, this documentary feels strangely out-of-step with a planet burning.
Generally in most Attenborough documentaries, nature is unspoiled, beautiful. It really is elegiac strings overlaid on unbroken blankets of ice. It really is a thing that exists beyond ordinary human experiencea someplace else that hovers up to now on the edge of my very own life that it could aswell be plucked from the pages of a fantasy novel. Humans is there in the Attenborough documentary but seldom onscreen. Theyre a looming destructive presence that exists just outside the natural system, but bearing down onto it. In case a person does come in an Attenborough documentary, it is almost always the comforting presence of the naturalist himself.
That is one method to consider the natural world, but its not the only method. In her book Under a White Sky, environmentally friendly writer Elizabeth Kolbert describes the chaotic way that humans are imprinted on almost every ecosystem on earth. Its messy, and humans are wreaking havoc everywhere we step, but Kolbert dispenses with the myth that nature exists beyond humanity and that only by stepping away can we right the wrongs we’ve wrought. To be certain, Attenborough doesnt fully sign up to this view either. In the 2020 documentary A Life on OUR WORLD, he highlights that reversing climate change will demand humans to look at renewable technology, eat much less meat, and try other solutions. But hes also a patron of Population Mattersa charity that advocates for reducing global populations in order to help ease strain on the planet. Keeping nature intact might imply that we have to have fewer humans around to take pleasure from it.
Im personally not convinced by this type of thinking, but I really do believe that wishing away humans to be able to concentrate on nature has two other unwanted effects that we can easily see in Attenboroughs documentaries. One is our destruction of the natural world may also be sidelined. Conservationist Julia Jones made this aspect with regards to OUR WORLD, the filming which she observed for three weeks in 2015. Following the documentary premiered she criticized the documentary for referencing forests burning in Madagascar but shying from showing footage of the destroyed ecosystems. Later, Jones praised Attenborough and his teams for depicting the impact of humans in the 2020 documentary Extinction: THE ACTUAL FACTa film she praised as surprisingly radical.