For decades, BBC nature documentaries have been the best in the business. Photography, research, and overall quality were always top- class. But at the turn of the millennium, something happened with programmes like Springwatch and its siblings. Suddenly the camera spent more time on the presenters chatting than on the animals. All those special real-time cameras hooked up to nest boxes and special posts filming away 24/7 were wasted because it was all about Kate and Ben and Bill and Co, nattering needlessly away.
I was looking forward to The Burrowers, as it deals with some of my favourite animals, but it has the same problem. The audience isn't ignorant, we can handle watching the animals with a little off-camera narration. In spite of the beautiful footage that was obviously shot (and of which we are given tantalising tastes here and there), the audience is mostly subjected to blurry, overlighted second-hand images shown to camera on the presenters' tablet, laptop or other screen, often slightly out of shot as Chris and the "specialists" chat about how amazing it is to see what has never been seen before...and what the audience isn't permitted to see up close for more than a few seconds at a time. Obviously we could,if allowed, as the few close up clips that actually make it into the programme demonstrate. That footage has to be available in the memory of one of the many digital cameras. But for some reason, it's all about the people and their amazement at themselves for being able to make the programme at all. Again and again a self-congratulatory tone is adopted, to tell the viewers how this has "never been done before"...and yet curiously it is exactly what we've seen time and time again: artificial nests and burrows filmed in "re-creations" underground. I have watched many nature documentaries in the past 45 years or so that prove it. The first artificial badger's sett to allow for underground filming that I am acquainted with, was built in the 1960s. Or visit any of the new-style zoos that have proliferated in the last 10 years and you will be able to see the animals from their own perspectives, by entering specially-built enclosures.
Another thing that got under my skin was the repeated references to the concrete-filled rabbit warren as "abandoned", when in the first episode it was clearly stated that the warren had been "managed" because there were too many rabbits on the property. Being translated, this means that the resident rabbits were eliminated--probably killed. But an "abandoned" warren implies that the rabbits somehow decided to leave it, perhaps voluntarily. Perhaps the makers felt that softened things for the viewers?
The best way to watch this documentary, if your interest lies with the animals themselves, is with the sound off. That way the constant wittering from the presenter won't detract so much.
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