Seven Worlds One Planet review: BBC America’s docu-series gains more relevance due to climate change crisis
BBC America's new big-budget, big-scope documentary series, Seven Worlds One Planet, comes at a crucial point with regard to the ongoing climate change crisis.
The seven-part series is a visual spectacle, and devotes one episode to each of Earth's continents, highlighting how life developed on every continent, as well as the factors threatening its unique biodiversity.
Venerable broadcaster and nature historian Sir David Attenborough, whose Netflix series Blue Planet explored the vastness of Earth's oceans, returns to take charge. As breathtaking montages of Antarctica’s snowy landscapes glide across our screen, Attenborough delivers in a grave tone, “This may be the most critical moment for life on Earth since the continents formed.”
The episode begins with a survival drama—a newborn seal pup who is too young to swim lies on the ice in Antarctica in a minus 40-degree blizzard. The mother does her best to shield it, but despite her best efforts returns underwater to take shelter. In a frightful moment, the pup remains on the ground, with a huge risk of freezing to death. When the mother reappears to the surface after the storm has passed, the pup barks in relief. However, across the ice, we see many abandoned seal pups succumbed to cold.
The series follows many more anxiety-induced, heartbreaking life-or-death jeopardy moments. One such incident occurs when albatross chicks are battered by hurricanes on the remote island of South Georgia. This emotional set piece sees a grey-headed albatross leave its chick alone in the nest to gather food, only for a ferocious storm (a regular feature in the frozen wasteland owing to climate change, as we learn), to overthrow the white-fluffs from their cozy camp to the ground.
When the albatross father returns, he sits glumly on the empty nest like a stern patriarch, refusing to budge and takes no notice of the battered, mud-caked chick trying to clamber back home. Attenborough’s voiceover gently looms as he explains that adult albatross can recognise their offspring only by virtue of them being on the nests where they left them, and not by the sight, smell or touch. Fortunately, the little chick flails at the feet of its oblivious parent, returns to nurturing warmth, and bonds again with the family.
Every episode carries these poignant familial tones to put across a hopeful message. The series introduces the extremely rare golden-haired, blue-faced, snub-nosed snow monkeys who inhabit the mountains of China. The snow monkeys always stay in groups. They must always be huddled together to survive the treacherous cold.
While we speak of struggles, the camera later switches to deep Asian forests, where we find a baby orangutan struggling to climb a tree, and nearly giving up while getting to the top. Seeing him exhausted, the mother carries the baby, and begins climbing. Midway, she plucks out a few mangoes to feed him. Noting that the baby is not ready yet, Attenborough reveals the orangutan will stay with his mother until seven, the longest of all childhoods, except ours. He further proclaims the dwindling rainforests have left the species endangered, for they now have nowhere to go with humans snatching their homes away.
As the series proceeds to provide magnificent visuals, we hear about altering weather conditions, changing migratory pattern of birds, disintegrating glaciers, and the hunting that has brought humpbacked whales perilously close to extinction.
Concurrent to the ecological disaster plaguing our planet, the Australian bushfires, BBC has decided to premiere the series with the episode dedicated to Australia. While the episode was filmed before the fires began, it will inform viewers of ways in which they can support the relief work that has been going on. While the show focuses on newly found species like Jotus Jumping Spider, it also features species like Pierente and Horny Devil, both in the Northern Territory, Cassowary birds, whose patriarch takes care of their young, and herding budgerigar birds in Queensland and Tasmanian Devlis in, well, Tasmania. As Attenborough presides in his opening, "This is a land of survivors." And the episode begins to hold even more resonance.
However, we exit on a hopeful somber note. In a gorgeously shot sequence, we see fishermen in South East Asia feed whale sharks some of their catch, instead of hunting them. This selfless activity thus fills us with optimism for the extinct biodiversity, for ever-evolving continents and overall for the planet.
While the series compels us to think about the pressing subject of climate breakdown, it also produces sweeping aerial shots, extensive clear close-ups, ornate underwater scenes of starfish, sea spiders, somnolent jellyfish, and some never-seen before fritters, attached with a hauntingly beautiful background score by Hans Zimmer. Seven Worlds One Planet has a lot to offer but most of all, it insists us to revel in the wonders of our planet and ponder upon conserving them.
Seven Worlds, One Planet is slated to premiere today on 20 January at 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth.
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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2020 16:10:13 IST