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Attenborough swansong? Thankfully, no!
on June 21, 2011
Madagascar is a 3-part BBC Earth series similar to Galapagos, Yellowstone, Ganges and others which explore a specific region in depth (and in high-def). What makes it special is its connection with David Attenborough, who (along with a single cameraman) was the first to document the astonishing wildlife of this enormous island 50 years earlier. Attenborough handles the narration, mostly in voice-over, for the whole series, and then takes the central role in the hour-long extra on disc 2, "Attenborough and the Giant Egg".
The egg in question was given to him in pieces on his first visit to Madagascar, and turns out to be a relic of the largest bird ever to live on earth, which lived alongside the first humans to arrive on the island for a few centuries, but is now extinct. What caused its extinction? Attenborough's investigation of that question broadens into a reflection on relations between humans and wildlife on Madagascar, a reflection made especially poignant by his personal feeling for the place and intimate knowledge of how it has changed during his lifetime. This film shows that the news is not all bad, as it documents the work that some residents of the island are doing to conserve its wild heritage; but the main 3-part series reminds us repeatedly that prospects are not good for many of the species here, 80% of whom are found nowhere else on earth. This is also true of the other extra on disc 2, an intimate 45-minute study of some ring-tailed lemurs, ably presented by Charlotte Uhlenbroek.
At the end of the main series, Attenborough (on location) remarks on what a shame it would be if this living laboratory of evolution should be lost before we have really understood it. In the more personal follow-up film, the bird who laid the giant egg becomes a symbol for the whole unique ecosystem: as the main series explores what made it so unique and fascinating, the sequel reflects on how it is changing. Madagascar in turn could be seen as a symbol of life on the whole planet, especially in the light of other recent BBC productions such as Human Planet and How the Earth Changed History. Attenborough has never been one to sermonize on what humanity is doing to its fellow earthlings and its own ecological matrix, but his concerns on that score come through loud and clear in this latest (and possibly his last) appearance before the BBC Earth cameras. Personally i can't help seeing this as a reflection on his own career as a peerless producer, writer and narrator of intelligent, informative and spectacular wildlife documentaries. What a shame if we should lose him before we've properly understood him! Even more than the many other great BBC miniseries on Blu-ray and DVD, this one should not be missed.
Update December 2011: This is certainly not the last BBC series to be narrated by David Attenborough, as he is also the voice of the Frozen Planet series coming in April 2012 on DVD and Blu-ray.