26 December 2011 | bob the moo
Amazingly filmed and engaging throughout
Looking spritely as ever David Attenborough returned to the BBC with yet another brilliant documentary series, this time focusing on the seasons across the polar regions at either end of the earth. Spread over six parts, each season gets an episode followed by one on the lives of human in the regions and then an episode on how the regions have changed over time (and temperature). I'm not really a regular viewer of shows such as this, but I do come out for the big guns of the genre and the Attenborough/BBC names tend to be of the highest quality (plus the clip of the criminal penguin that was released as a promo convinced me to watch).
It is hard to fault Frozen Planet for what it does because it is technically impressive and stunningly filmed but yet has more than enough content and specifics to prevent the show being taken as just an excuse to show off your HD TV or have visual wallpaper for an hour (although having said that, it performs that task too and needs to be seen in HD). Although it covers a lot of ground, the show perfectly captures a sense of the extremes and of the remarkable forms of life that live in and around them, some we have seen before and some we have not and I found it as engaging to see familiar creatures as I did to learn of caterpillars that freeze completely solid only to thaw out and continue living when the ice retreats. As is to be expected, some of the presentation is a touch anthropomorphised but mostly the show is pretty honest about the chances of survival and is not afraid to show us the fates of creatures who are simply unlucky or misjudge their situation. Although one tries to watch it as a documentary it is hard not to feel something when you've just watched a baby bird survive a very rough landing on its first flight, only to be grabbed by a passing fox! The final two episodes are weaker by comparison because there is less of the animals and more of the human condition and bigger picture, but they are both fascinating. I came to the fifth episode not expecting much but the study of select communities did impress – not so much those that go there with money and technology, but those that hunt and live there; the shot of the man on a rope harvesting eggs on a cliff-face was a high point. The final episode just about avoids politics by mostly just showing things and leaving the rest to the viewer, but it was still an unusual part of the show compared to other series.
As always the filming is incredible and I do enjoy the little snippets at the end of each episode where we see how they were done and the frustrations and challenges of trying to get these great shots. The results are brilliant though, whether it is a camera dropped into a creature's burrowed hole, underwater shots of whales hunting as a pack or a hunt taken from far above in a helicopter; all of them are visually impressive and often breath-taking. The degree of access and intimacy is equally impressive and it is this that really makes the show as the viewer really feels part of an environment that the vast majority of us will never see or experience for ourselves. Over all this Attenborough's familiar tones inform and entertain – on top of his genre as ever but yet modest to the end.
Frozen Planet was a great series, really hard to fault as it delivers across the board for the vast majority of its run.