Consider the first 'Planet Earth' one of the finest documentaries ever made and one of the best series ever made on anything. A perfect representation of what makes David Attenborough so deservedly highly regarded and his remarkably consistent body of work (even his lesser work is still good) as delightful as it is.
'Planet Earth II' is every bit as exceptional (even if not quite ground-breaking) and easily a 2016 television highlight, its acclaim is more than deserved. Its first episode "Islands" couldn't have been a more ideal start, meeting and exceeding incredibly high expectations. This may be reiterating what has been said many times about Attenborough's work, but pretty much everything he's done, even those that are not quite masterpiece status, has consistently the same strengths so it's unavoidable. Throughout it's an awe-inspiring, utterly transfixing experience where one forgets they're watching a documentary and instead feeling like they're watching art, that couldn't be higher praise for anything.
"Islands" for starters looks amazing. It is gorgeously filmed, done in a completely fluid and natural, sometimes intimate (a great way of connecting even more with the animals), way and never looking static. In fact much of it is remarkably cinematic. The scenery and island habitat are simply spectacular, the rich colours just leap out. For a composer that composes normally bombastic, rousing and pulse-racing music that is epic even in the quieter moments, Hans Zimmer's music here is a remarkably good fit. It's unmistakably Zimmer in style but throughout it not only complements the visuals but enhances them. The main theme is impossible to forget.
What of the narrative aspects? Can't fault "Islands" in this aspect either. The narration has a great well-balanced mix of facts that will be familiar to the viewer and others that will induce the right amount of surprise. In short, it's just fascinating, informative and thoughtful.
Nothing but credit is due too for adhering to what made 'Planet Earth' work the first time and then bringing a freshness with a few nice ideas to avoid it being too stale. Attenborough delivers all this information beautifully in a way only he can achieve, there's a soft-spoken enthusiasm, sincerity and precision about his delivery and he never preaches while knowing what to say and how and when to say it.
The animals are a mix of cute and menacing. Love the iguanas and they are clearly "Islands" biggest highlights of an episode with a great many.
Like Attenborough's best work, "Islands" and 'Planet Earth II' in general feels like its own individual story and never feels episodic or repetitive. There are real, complex emotions and conflicts and animal characters developed in a way a human character would in a film but does it better than several.
Overall, as perfect a first episode of an exceptional series as one can get. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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