Stars: David Attenborough
Produced By: BBC
David Attenborough is by and far the most important figure at the BBC, and perhaps one of the main reasons every last trace of the organisation hasn’t been burnt to the ground by the British people. It is almost cliche to describe the magnificent nature documentaries regularly produced by his team as the only thing which significantly justifies the extortionate license fee – but god damn it, it is true. Luckily the rest of the world can sit back and enjoy these masterpieces without being subjected to the rest of the diarrhea which comes as part of the package.
Alas, every once in a while we are treated to something truly awe inspiring and allows us to return to our natural state of passivity and misery and continue tolerating this one sided deal with the devil.
Attenborough’s latest natural Earth epic turns its gaze to, no not the industrial wastes of North West England, but to the largest remaining concentration of wildlife on Earth… the content of Africa.
Each episode turns to a specific African eco system, from the cruel and parched lands of Savannah, to the rich and relatively unspoiled great forests of the Congo. None of the species are given introductions or granted center stage for long as the action jumps quickly from one corner of a region to the next, it is kind of assumed that most people are already familiar with the basics. Some of the A lister big guns seem to have been difficult to get hold of, the absence of Chimps and Hippo’s perhaps suggesting a union strike or some personal issues with the suspicious Attenborough. But there is still a pleasant mix of our favorite African icons and the more obscure camera shy freaks of nature who nobody really cares about until they have appeared in a Disney film or insurance advert.
Africa’s true niche, and one of Attenborough’s famed abilities, is to show animals we thought we new well behaving in totally unexpected ways. From Giraffes engaging in vicious neck duels, to tubby Rhino’s playfully flirting under the moon light, there is some serious work being done to undermine your downright ignorant and unacceptable speciesist assumptions.
Most welcome is the increased personal presence of Attenborough who appears on location alongside some of the rare and beautiful animals, delivering heartfelt insights into the lives of his subjects. His emotive narration is as effortlessly enthralling as ever, the simple sound of his voice beginning to exert some kind of magical hypnotic property, both soothing in its deep sense of knowledge and years of experience, and irresistibly powerful as it cracks through emotional stoicism like a warm knife through butter. It becomes increasingly difficult not to view all human and animal behaviour with your own inner Attenborough voice chiming away and making sense of all the confusion. Incredibly an American version exists which dispenses with the great man who did all the hard work in favour of Ghost Dog star Forrest Whittaker – the American face of natural science apparently. Good luck to them.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitably poetic superlatives to adequately describe the BBC camera teams unrivaled ability to capture the inert magic of the natural world. Here Africa is framed in a noticeably improved level of HD cinematography, surely bringing in the next batch of awards and setting a significantly high new benchmark. The vibrancy of the colours drawn from the diverse locals, and the minuscule details of flies, dust, water vapor, and of course Attenborough’s sweat patches, are all captured in a kind of pornographic slow motion. It is worrying to contemplate that the Beeb have started to make the real world look better than our own primitive eyball’s can achieve, positing the stark reality of a dystopian future world where people gauge out their own eyeballs out and install BBC controlled cameras to experience a new level of reality, whilst providing the broadcaster with the next generation of reality TV footage.
For those sick carnivorous puppies out there, be warned that Africa is a romanticised, picturesque love letter to the continent, and to the wider natural world. There is a noticeable lack of brutality and violence so do not expect to see a pride of Lion’s tearing their doe eyed beautiful prey apart like cheap fudge. And for the disturbed voyeurs there is little animal rumpy pumpy, slap and tackle on show. This is strictly aimed at a family audience and is full of Pixar esq moments of delightful comedy such as a Rhino suiter with antlers stuck on his horn, or a squirrel dropping an acorn with astute comedy timing. This sweet and innocent approach is obviously led by a probably worthwhile agenda to make Africa look appealing to the audiences and will no doubt encourage the feeling that this dying part of the natural world is worth saving. That said there are enough moments of tragedy and the desperate cruelty of nature to make even the hardest of us cry like Attenborough does over the rapid death of his precious Earth.