Blue Planet II: Yes, It's As Good As We Hoped…

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Ultra-HD high-speed footage captures an amazing amount of detail (All photos ©BBC Earth / Blue Planet II)


It’s 16 years since the Blue Planet premiered, stunning the world with what is – without question – the best and most exciting underwater documentary series of all time.

Now, four years in the making, the sequel, Blue Planet II, has begun airing on the BBC. As Sir David Attenborough notes, much has changed since 2001: the Arctic ice cap has shrunk by as much as 40 per cent; the problem of plastic pollution and the damage to our oceans has moved beyond the province of scientists to the global consciousness, but if there is one constant in our changing world, it is Sir David himself, 91 years of age, and his almost mesmerising narration.

Technology has moved on, and with it, the extent to which the 70 per cent of the planet which still remains largely unexplored can be brought to the screen has reached new pinnacles of achievement – all displayed within the opening sequence of Blue Planet II.

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The show's creators managed to place an action camera directly onto an orca's skin to capture the view from its perspective

Much of the footage is very familiar. We have been watching dolphins frolicking in the ocean for many years, but we haven't seen them before in a social gathering with false killer whales, and the way their flight is captured as they 'surf' through waves off the coast of South Africa is immeasurably enhanced by ultra-high definition, high-speed videography, capturing every piece of the action in minute detail.

Adding to the magic is brilliantly captured time-lapse video of scavenging sea cucumbers, giant trevallies hunting birds and the adventures of a solitary tuskfish going to great lengths to dig out a solitary clam and open the shell in its ‘specialised kitchen’, mesmerising footage of mobula leaping from the water, and the transition of a female kobudai into the 'superbly handsome' male version of the same fish – which it then chases away as a rival.

The first instalment – One Ocean – like its predecessors, brings together a sequence of all-too-short teasers of the forthcoming episodes. Sleeping sperm whales, new footage of orca hunting herrings with a spectacular lash of their tails, all the more exciting for being filmed through the lens of a camera suctioned on to one of the hunting mammals.

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It's a man's world – sort of – the kobudai on the left was, until recently, a female

And the team from BBC Earth, as always, pull no punches. In just few moments we cut from the fledgeling Arctic tern wobbling through its first, heart-warming take-off, to its brutal demise in the gaping maw of a giant trevally. Nature is like that, and the producers have never shied away from the constant struggle for survival of the planet’s wildlife.

Throughout the episode is the music of Hans Zimmer, capturing the mood of each scene perfectly – stirring notes with a spectacular backdrop of giant waves as they break in super-slow motion, turns triumphant as the prey escapes the predator, to pulling on the heartstrings as a female walrus pushes her exhausted pup onto an iceberg with just enough room for two. 

As welcome as the amazing footage of the natural world, is the 10-minute glimpse into the work that goes into creating the series. Footage of bioluminescent plankton and the light-show generated by fast-moving feeding mobula has never before been recorded, and as the cameraman admits, just before jumping, the light-sensitive equipment might result in some amazing video, but it requires ‘diving totally blind’ in the darkness.

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New technology has been able to capture the surreal glow of photoluminescing plankton as mobula swim through the water

One of the best episodes of the previous series was the chapter from the deep oceans, and that is where we head for the next instalment. Just a few brief glimpses from the thousands of hours spent in deep ocean submersibles before the closing credits set the scene for what will surely be the most jaw-droppingly spectacular footage ever taken of the part of the oceans that nobody can see, and give viewers all the reasons they need to batten down the hatches for the next six Sundays and stay glued to the TV.

Chapter 2 ‘The Deep’ will air on Sunday 5 November at 8pm. 



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