Saying that the excellence of Frozen Planet
is predictable is not to diminish it with faint praise, but rather to acknowledge that it meets the extraordinarily high standards of all the BBC's nature documentaries--starting with the mother ship, Planet Earth
, and continuing through Human Planet
, Wild Pacific
, and all the others. Narrated as usual by the redoubtable David Attenborough, these seven episodes (on three discs, plus bonus material) take us to the Arctic and Antarctica, the two most remote and least hospitable areas on the planet. And yet, despite environments where temperatures reach minus 70 degrees Celsius and the sun doesn't shine for half the year, life flourishes. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of attention given to seals, penguins, and polar bears--so much, in fact, that as engaging as these sequences are (including those depicting male bears and elephant seals waging bloody warfare against would-be suitors trying to horn in on their mates), one might be forgiven if a certain fatigue eventually sets in. Fortunately, there's a great deal more, especially in the more diversified Arctic: from slugs, snails, and caterpillars that freeze solid in winter and thaw in the spring (a cycle that repeats year after year until, at age 14, the insect finally becomes a moth) to minke whales, beluga whales, and narwhals (the single-horned "unicorn of the sea"), from seabirds and cod gathering by the millions to a large pack of wolves tracking a herd of bison (one of many extraordinary aerial sequences) and caribou in mass migration. There are breathtaking shots of the landscape as well, including a glacier in Greenland that advances at a rate of 40 meters per day
, as well as a stunning depiction of the aurora borealis. Finally, there is the human element; in episode six, "The Last Frontier," we visit Longyearbyen, Norway, the northernmost town on the planet, and the Dolgan, a tribe in Siberia who hunt walrus with harpoons and scale sheer cliffs to gather eggs to sustain themselves. Finally, the seventh and last episode, "On Thin Ice," chronicles in alarming detail the climate changes, including the rapid loss of ice, that point to serious consequences for the entire world within a few decades.
All of this is presented by way of the kind of magnificent, gorgeous camera work that beggars verbal description. Each episode also contains a "freeze frame" segment explaining how the camera crews captured a particular sequence, sometimes very much at their own peril, while bonus material includes several dozen short "video diaries" and "Frozen Planet: The Epic Journey," an hour-long compilation of some of the series' best moments. --Sam Graham