“How did they get that shot?” will be a question almost every single of viewer of BBC America’s “Planet Earth II” asks at some point. That is the (somehow worldly) cinematic magic of what will undoubtedly be one of the best series of 2017.
Featuring six episodes grouped together by broader yet specific geographic biomes, “Planet Earth II” contains the most sweeping scope and natural beauty literally ever filmed. Jumping from “Islands” to “Mountains” to “Jungles,” “Deserts” to “Grasslands” to “Cities,” there is a surprising amount of seriality to the series from episode to episode. Each section is surprisingly contained — which makes sense as the realities that animals living on islands face will drastically differ from those that animals living in cities face — yet, the overriding exploration of how animals across the globe adapt and struggle to survive in these specific environments makes for a rousing and at times heartbreakingly universal viewing experience.
Since the original “Planet Earth” premiered, which was a monumental achievement (arguably the greatest) within the field of nature documentaries at the time, the technology that production crews rely on has so vastly increased in its ability to capture harsh environments, provide incredible deep focus imagery and, most importantly, capture the closest of intimate moments thanks to unbelievably powerful zoom lenses. “Planet Earth II” can now catch the wondrous moments of the natural world on camera. Featuring unseen-before tracking shots, pans and extreme close ups — sometimes under water, in rain, in harsh deserts and right in front of animals — it’s not a far-reach to state “Planet Earth II” is the most beautifully composed and edited series anyone has seen.
But this beauty would only go so far on its own.
Thankfully, through all six episodes of “Planet Earth II,” there is a considerable amount of action, adventure, suspense, romance and visceral thrills that the producers, directors, editors, cinematographers, sound designers/mixers and the tireless crews of these productions were able to catch. It also helps immensely when the immaculate voice of Sir David Attenborough is narrating and the Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, along with Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe, is pulling at our heartstrings with some of the most beautiful of musical crescendos.
If we’re looking for good ole fashioned monster movie mashup, the first episode stuns with two Komodo dragons fighting over a mate. When these two giants begin to slam their bodies into each other, the bone-crunching sounds of the mix — emphasizing the brute force both reptiles possess — proves as impactful as anything a classic “Godzilla” or “King Kong” movie could muster up.
We also see moments of motherly instinct and sacrifice when a mother snow leopard gives herself up to fight males so her young cub can escape from the two predatory males who would have killed the young cub before mating with the mother.
Among the many scenes of potential despair though, the editors of the series construct the story so that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. We see a beautiful moment of a male Wilson’s bird endlessly trying to win the affection of a female in the “Jungles” episode, and finally succeeding after what was surely hours of trying. This was the first time this act was caught on camera, creating a romance as achingly poetic as anything in “La La Land” or “Moonlight.”
Minus the genre arcs that the show relies on in presenting itself as an entertaining documentary, the show never forgets its place and ability in being able to educate its viewers on the animals we coexist with on this grand, incredibly diverse planet. And this is where the show will stand the test of time.
While every single episode can be charted for its miraculously beautiful footage and that aforementioned question of “how did they shoot that,” the final episode, titled “Cities,” is the most majestic of achievements across both “Planet Earth” and “Planet Earth II.”
For the first time across the two seasons of “Planet Earth,” the series turns its camera onto the animals inhabiting cities alongside humans. Because of this introduction of humans into the world, it is also the first time the series makes a blatant political comment. “Every ten years, an area the size of Britain disappears under a jungle of concrete. But, it doesn’t have to be like this.”
The series shows the realities of how humans are creating drastic conditions in which animals and nature have to adapt to in order to survive. Yet, as always, the show ends by posing a statement that humans across the globe, now that we know what’s at stake, can make a difference. We can build locations that are in harmony with the wildlife, instead of destroying the beauty of planet Earth.
Not only is the show the most beautiful ever seen thanks to the natural beauty of the world and the greatest of technologies to capture it, “Planet Earth II” also may just be the most relevant and necessary.
“Planet Earth II” premieres on BBC America on Feb. 18 at 9 p.m.