a perfect planet
Image: Moonraker Films / Silverback Films / NASA

‘A Perfect Planet’ review

David Attenborough is famous for working on consistently educational, engaging and entertaining content about the natural world, and his latest series, A Perfect Planet, is no different. It’s comprised of five episodes, each focusing on the natural forces of volcanoes, the Sun, weather, oceans and humans respectively. Although he has long earned a relaxing retirement, Attenborough’s dedication to the planet seems to have him busier than ever. In an interview with the New York Times, he acknowledged that we have so much to be concerned about, particularly life on our planet, but that this series is intended as an antidote to the worry. Every episode is a celebration of natural resilience and the marvel of life – even human life, which has the potential to be a force for good.

There are few programmes that are able to hold my complete, undivided attention, but this was one of them. Hearing the calm, commanding voice of the familiar national treasure over some of the most beautiful scenes from the natural world has the power to capture me. The beauty of nature never fails to inspire awe and the scenes captured for A Perfect Planet are remarkable. It’s a stark reminder that we are lucky to have so much and that there is so much worth fighting for.

The beauty of nature never fails to inspire awe and the scenes captured for A Perfect Planet are remarkable

Attenborough is predictably pithy in his voiceover in which every word is important, factual and weighty. This approach makes his departures from it all the more meaningful – I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt emotional at his simple acknowledgement in episode one: “This little chick is very lucky”. The mood matching music is expertly chosen and the close attention paid to the authentic sounds of nature make them incredibly powerful – from a great gust of wind and the squawking of birds to a perfectly timed audible gulp from an iguana atop a cliff.

Returning to his overriding message that grows ever the more pressing with each project of his as time passes, Attenborough reminds us that the perfection of this planet is all-too dependent on us. We off-set the balance of gasses produced by natural phenomena like volcanoes. We make migration patterns and the seasons unpredictable with global warming. We create more radical, extreme, unpredictable weather events that destroy ecosystems and human habitats alike. We make the patterns of the tides unreliable to the life that depends on its constancy. We have the power to exploit, but a duty to care.

The mood matching music is expertly chosen and the close attention paid to the authentic sounds of nature make them incredibly powerful

By necessity, Attenborough has shifted over the course of his career from being a presenter to being an activist. The truth is, it would be deceptive to produce a nature documentary in this pivotal environmental period without also acknowledging that the endurance of such beauty is entirely dependent on us, and it’s dwindling. As one of Britain’s most beloved national treasures, Attenborough is uniquely placed to have an impact on his audience, a nation of disparate groups with differing values who (on the whole) respect and value the voice of Sir David Attenborough. It’s tough to imagine the inevitable future in which the best nature documentaries are not headed by David Attenborough, to the point where it seems wrong to consider his replacement – when the time comes, they will be big shoes to fill.

A Perfect Planet reasserts David Attenborough’s most vital message with the greatest impact in episode five, ‘Humans’. It’s a wake-up call in a steady stream of recent wake-up calls from environmentalists just hoping that at some point the message will have to hit home. Something has to be done. The inclusion of experts alongside Attenborough in the final episode was a pleasant surprise done well and an important step in elevating the voices of informed experts in their field, the ones actively working on solutions to present to the rest of us.

It’s a wake-up call in a steady stream of recent wake-up calls from environmentalists just hoping that at some point the message will have to hit home

Across five episodes, an argument is built. A desperate plea. It would be a crime to sit back and wait for the problem to be solved, we all have to make the effort and put up a fight for our planet’s future. That is Attenborough’s greatest wish which he sadly won’t have the chance to see fully enacted – but we can still prove him right.

There’s some debate over whether documentaries like A Perfect Planet are an effective means of activism or whether it simply reaches audiences who are already invested in the cause, but TV has a unique power. By showcasing parts of the world that are otherwise closed off to the average viewer, TV has the ability to inspire empathy quite unlike any other form. Documentaries bring the world’s disasters inside our homes, and primetime shows like those brought to us by David Attenborough have the potential to have a significant impact on an incredibly broad audience – they have the power to protect and preserve our perfect planet.

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