Monday, April 17, 2017

Top 10 Moments in 'Planet Earth II'

Planet Earth II is a nature documentary mini-series from BBC, and serves as sequel to 2006’s Planet Earth.  It was originally released in the UK in 2016, but was widely released to international audiences this year.  And I recently had the pleasure of watching it.  As a kid, I had watched and enjoyed tons of this stuff, particularly in Discovery Channel.  Hence, I’ve always loved nature documentaries (I’m currently looking forward to Disneynature’s latest film, Born in China).  So I had a blast with Planet Earth II.

Through exquisite, exhilarating HD footage – accompanied by stirring sound design (its main theme music is composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer) and narrated cosily by Sir David Attenborough – the series showcases the great magnificence and complexity of Creation.  Each episode (six in all) focuses on a particular kind of habitat (the focused habitats are islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands, and cities), featuring the struggle for survival by a variety of animals living in it, while demonstrating that something beautiful can be found in the harshest of places and that something harsh can be found in the most beautiful of places.
This list isn’t necessarily for the purpose of reviewing the series in detail.  Also, by picking top ten moments, I don’t intend to imply that the other moments aren’t as outstanding.  Every segment is equally notable and every shot is gorgeous.  These ten just struck me the most – my personal favorites.

From Episode 6: “Cities”
My two most favorite episodes are the first one, “Islands”, and the last one, “Cities”, so multiple entries are going to come from these two episodes.

A sobering information that the last episode provides is how metropolitan civilization can sometimes screw with animal instincts.  Example, baby sea turtles rely on moonlight to guide them into the sea after hatching.  However, urban lights can confuse many of them, that instead of heading towards the sea, they head inland towards the city.  80% of the hatchlings fall victim from this.

From Episode 6: “Cities
Apparently, it’s not unusual for leopards to roam around Mumbai, India at night.  Their common preys are domesticated pigs.  But they sometimes attack humans as well.

The night-vision footage of a leopard stealing a piglet from a family of pigs is pretty eerie.  But what makes this horrifically surreal to me is that, again, this isn’t a one-time, bizarre curiosity but a common occurrence in Mumbai.  Crazy!

From Episode 1: “Islands”
For many kinds of animals, a deadly duel is a prerequisite for mating.  Among the animals featured in the series that have such practice, my favorite is the Komodo dragon.   It’s because seeing two Komodo dragons fight is just like seeing an epic kaijū battle.

From Episode 3: “Jungles”
While female jaguars hunt creatures like capybaras (the largest rodents in the world), the less-stealthy, larger male jaguars would go after a much more dangerous target:
Caimans – an alligator relative!
That’s extremely badass.

From Episode 4: “Deserts”
Water is rare in the desert.  Hence, creatures living in it have displayed incredible techniques in their pursuit of meeting the hydration requirements of living.  One of those is the Darkling beetle.  As moist air from the Atlantic is blown and cooled to form fog banks atop sand dunes, it travels to the top and lets the fog condense on its body.  It then drinks the water droplets that form – drinking up to 40% of its body weight.

But as we begin to celebrate the little thing’s unique, amazing exploit, a Namaqua chameleon suddenly eats it on its travel back down.  Apparently, it has learned that the Darkling beetles going down are much juicier than those going up.
The whole segment unfolded like a dark comedy sketch.  I had to laugh.

From Episode 6: “Cities”
Among birds, pigeons are arguably the ones that have adjusted most successfully in an urban environment.   But the conveniences of city living has removed from them the instinct of fear.  In France, as they bathe in the nearby city rivers, their guards are down against the massive wels catfish that have obtained a taste for them.  Witnessing this monster fish get close to a crowd of pigeons undetected (or the pigeons just don’t care) and pounce like a Mosasaurus (from Jurassic World) is mesmerizing.

From Episode 6: “Cities”
At different parts of the series, the bird mating ritual that involves a male going at lengths to impress a female has been portrayed three different times by three different species (if I remember correctly).  My most favorite depiction is the segment for the great bowerbird.  The focused male bird has built a bower with colorful pebbles and small man-made objects – like toy cars, buttons, plastic caps, strings, clothes’ peg, etc. – scattered around it.  This is, of course, an attempt to attract a mate.  Unsatisfied with what he has, the great bowerbird raids neighboring bowerbirds’ bowers and steal some of their stuff.  One of the things he stole was, poetically, a small scarlet heart.

With the final touches on his bower done, he waits for female visitors.  And one soon arrives.  With a potential mate around, he begins to woo her with his treasures.  But nothing seems to impress her; she completely ignores him no matter what he does.  Finally, he offers his most prized possession – the scarlet heart – and expands the pink crest on top of his head – the symbol of his mature manhood.
But once his guest takes the scarlet heart, he realizes his mistake: “she” – the guest – is, in fact, a “he”!  The guest isn’t a female at all, but a young male whose pink crest hasn’t developed yet.  However, the realization came too late for our great bowerbird as the young male flies away with his scarlet heart.

This has been a very well-written, amusing, and funny segment.

From Episode 1: “Islands”
Most thrilling part of the series: newly hatched marine iguanas being chased by racer snakes.  It’s probably more white-knuckled and heart-pumping than many suspense horror films out there.

From Episode 2: “Mountains”
Once winter ends, bears have to shed their thick winter coats since due to the warm weather.  In order to do so, they lean on trees and rub themselves against it.  It’s the most hilariously adorable thing I’ve seen in the series.  Here, they look less like the bear in The Revenant and more like Winnie the Pooh.

From Episode 1: “Islands”
Mobs of penguins brave powerful, monstrous waves in order to reach the open sea so that they can fish and provide food for their families.  This tough, dreadful affair is a significant part of penguins’ lives.  Injuries and deaths happen amidst the chaos.  It’s no goofy Surf’s Up.
This display of incredible tenacity is extremely poignant and gripping, making it the series’ most unforgettable moment for me.

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