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Flying penguins at the extremities of earth
on April 19, 2012
In recent years BBC Earth has brought us many spectacular high-definition visions of the natural world, and they've pulled out all the stops with this one: near-microscopic shots of krill feeding, extreme close-ups of polar bears, satellite shots of sea ice retreating, aerial views of enormous ice sheets, slow-motion shots of an ice dam breaking up in spring, time-lapse revelations of glaciers flowing to the sea.
The polar regions are among the strangest on earth simply because they are so unfamiliar, and even when we've seen them before (for instance in the first episode of Planet Earth, or Life in the Freezer), there are plenty of surprises here. Hunting sequences and battles between males in rut are always exciting and many are included, but often the hunts don't turn out as you might expect. Besides, even the melting of icicles in the spring is dramatic when you see it in gorgeous high-def slow-motion, as is the formation of ice crystals and snowflakes in high-def time-lapse. There's plenty of humour too, and George Fenton's musical score, reprising his role in Planet Earth, also adds to the sheer entertainment value. Besides, the sound is as amazing as the pictures, from the deep rumbling as a giant iceberg is born to the intimate crackling as of delicate hoarfrost forming.
Astonishingly beautiful as it is, this series is also packed with information, including some new discoveries, and David Attenborough's narration has never been better. Of the six episodes on the first two discs, one introduces us to the Arctic and Antarctic regions, one is devoted to each of the four seasons (at both poles), and one covers the human presence in this "Last Frontier". This final part would have fit just as well in the "Human Planet" series. With the excellent 10-minute "Freeze Frame" segment that documents the highlights of shooting, each episode is an hour long.
The third disc includes the final episode, "On Thin Ice", which shows graphically and explains how (and why) the global warming trend is changing the polar regions much more rapidly than the rest of the planet ... and how this is likely to affect all of us in the present century. This episode uses a lot of footage from the first six, but Attenborough's cogent narration puts it all in a different context. The "extras" on this third disc include:
a 20-minute featurette on the scientific work going on at the poles;
an hour-long condensed version of the first six episodes, containing the most spectacular and dramatic parts of the series;
and a host of brief pieces called "production video diaries" but not limited to peeks behind the scenes of how the series was shot. These don't have the high-def video or audio of the rest, but those i've sampled are interesting for the background information they provide.
In his introduction to the whole series, Attenborough remarks that "This is our planet's last true wilderness, and one that is changing just as we are beginning to understand it." He invites us "to witness its wonders, perhaps for the last time ... " It's hard to refuse an invitation like that, and the promise of wonders is amply fulfilled in every episode. Highly recommended!