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Blue Planet II - First episode review

Blue Planet II

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THERE probably aren’t enough superlatives to do justice to BBC’s Blue Planet II – at least on the evidence of the stunning first episode.

Four years in the making, and with the lives of its cameramen and women occasionally on the line, this latest David Attenborough fronted series is awash with stunning images – some of which have never been seen before, others which carry an air of familiarity, but a welcome one.

Of the latter, the sight of bottlenose dolphins surfing some spectacular swells is something that never grows old, thanks to its combination of power, beauty and grace. But captured in ultra slow motion, using the latest in technology, there was a majesty to the shots that was awe-inspiring.

And if that weren’t enough, then the perilous nature of the capturing of the footage itself was all the more impressive. As ever with these BBC series, the final 10 minutes or so affords viewers a peak behind the curtain, into the patience and bravery needed to gather some of these images.

And while this first episode provided several ‘how did they do that’ moments, it was the dolphin footage that took centre-stage here, as an intrepid camera-men ventured out into a South African swell, described as the biggest and most dangerous he had ever seen, to try and gain unique footage of the dolphins catching the breaks.

You could literally see the terror on said cameraman’s face as the jetski he was on the back of almost became engulfed by one such wave… prompting him to switch to an alternative means of transportation for a later, more successful attempt at capturing the footage. And whether you think the risks involved were fool-hardy or not, there’s no denying the stunning nature of what was eventually captured.

Elsewhere in this opening salvo, there was the spectacular sight of giant trevallies devouring young terns from below the waves, much like great white sharks taking flight off the bay of South Africa to catch seals. Here, the trevallies could be observed patrolling the lagoon of an Indian Ocean atoll, awaiting an unsuspecting fledgling tern as it took a breather from the strain of a debut flight.

Once more unfolding in extreme slo-mo, this was mesmerising in its beauty and brutality. Yet, perhaps most striking of all, was a near miss – as one lucky tern made an unlikely mid-air escape, leaving its predator to flap and flounder before crashing back into the waves. You could almost call it Blue Planet‘s racer-snake moment.

Incredibly, these fish can calculate the airspeed, altitude and trajectory needed to capture the terns once they attempt to take off – evidence of a higher intelligence at play among the fish community than has ever been previously thought.

Indeed, it was nuggets of information such as this that made Blue Planet II as interesting and informative as it was visually arresting.

Similarly, the sight of a tusk fish smashing a clam against a particular coral, his kitchen of choice, provided yet further evidence of an incredibly patient personal habit and more of that intelligence. It was a fascinating sight to behold.

And still there was more to savour. Killer whales bashing vast swathes of herring with their tales in order to stun them into comatose, edible states was another example of how nature so often combines beauty with brutality… even more so once a group of humpback whales turned up to joint the feast among Norway’s fjords.

While the mere sight of waves crashing against rocks, or rolling towards the shore, like great stallions, provided sobering evidence of nature’s power (akin to several nuclear blasts) and, simultaneously, its grace. Captured in slo-mo, the effect of watching these swirling giants was hypnotic.

And there was even room for the now obligatory, but painfully necessary, reminder of the continued harm that global warming is causing to the environment. In this episode, it was the plight of a group of walrus mothers and their cubs, desperate to provide shelter for their babies on the dwindling ice fields.

For all of nature’s wonder and danger, it’s man who continues to pose the biggest threat to some – if not all – of these remarkable creatures.

Blue Planet II is essential viewing for all sorts of reasons. But while its message about the environment must be heeded, it’s the stunning images that stay with you the longest. This really is awash with exceptional scenes of beauty.