Sometimes the natural world appears to be an inaccessible realm. It can be hard to express just how beautiful the world is around us. Planet Earth brings the best of the natural world to the little screen in an 11-part television series, which first premiered in 2006. The series used the most modern and advanced film techniques to capture some of Earth’s most spectacular places. The franchise has recently released Planet Earth II, and with this newest installment, it is important to look back at the original in order to understand why Planet Earth is one of the world’s most well-renowned nature documentary series.
Planet Earth takes audiences to some of the most far-reaching corners of the globe and pulls back the veil to reveal some of the most spectacular ecosystems and species. The filmography is dazzling, with beautiful panoramic images of the great plains of Africa and one-of-a-kind close-up shots of mother and cub snow leopards in northern Siberia. With David Attenborough acting as narrator, audiences are not only swept away into new landscapes, but are also educated about some of the world’s most important ecosystems. The series’ ability to pull viewers into the workings of each landscape is what makes Planet Earth one-of-a-kind.
The natural world is beautifully captured, but the producers have also manipulated what is seen in order to keep viewers intrigued for all 11 of its hour-long episodes. We all know that death is a part of wild ecosystems, but Planet Earth never explicitly shows death to its viewers.
In the fifth episode, “Deserts,” viewers see an elephant calf wandering through the Kalahari Desert in search of its mother, but the calf is traveling in the wrong direction. In “Ice Worlds,” the audience is shown a wounded polar bear. Viewers know that the elephant calf and the polar bear are going to die, but it is never clearly shown. The series is able to bring its audience to the edge of torment, and then pull us back in by transitioning immediately to newer and happier scenes, and some of most spectacular events that occur in the natural world.
Planet Earth presents some of the world’s most fabulous and exciting landscapes. Viewers are given close-up shots of a snow leopard, one of the world’s rarest wild cats. Birds of paradise are shown acting out their courtship displays in Papua New Guinea. One of the most spectacular shots in history of the predator-prey interaction between great white sharks and sea lions is shown in “The Shallow Seas.” The series presents a wow-factor that was not present in nature documentaries that came before it. The five-year filming process enabled countless filming crews to spend extraordinary amounts of time in some of the world’s wildest places in order to get the perfect shot.
However, what Planet Earth does best is not simply presenting beautiful shots of spectacular events and places. The documentary series is able to present the pressing issue of climate change in a way that not many other mediums can. The combination of the images, script, and perfect narration allows Planet Earth to present educational information about climate change as it pulls its viewers into landscapes in an emotionally charged fashion. In many ways, the series silently teaches audiences to emotionally connect with far away ecosystems and captures the effects of climate change firsthand with heart-wrenching shots of polar bears swimming 60 miles to find dinner due to the lack of sea ice.
Planet Earth and Planet Earth II become more important series as climate change becomes increasingly politicized. In a time when the planet is as vulnerable as the wandering elephant calf, these series have the ability to demonstrate just how beautiful and important the natural world really is.