Blue Planet 2 has surfaced!

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 29 October 2017

So, we’ve all taken a collective deep breath, and episode one of the BBC Blue Planet 2 series has come to the surface. After 6,000 hours of filming underwater, and 1,500 days on location in waters of at least 37 different countries, expectations have been running high. All BBC channels have been building up to the series launch. Radiohead contributed to the soundtrack. How much bigger could a nature series be? Does the series deliver what it has promised?

Just in case you haven’t seen the programme yet, this won’t be a detailed run down. I’ll hold back from telling the lives of fish, several sea mammals and a smattering of invertebrates that you can look forward to when you get the chance to watch – but make sure you do. Because my verdict is: yes, the programme delivers, and it’s a breathtakingly beautiful experience.

I felt a real sense of actually being immersed underwater for the bulk of the hour. The work of the many skilled camera operators takes the viewer right in for exceptionally close and personal experiences with some amazing, even fairly daunting creatures. Drone camera shots from above the waves aren’t over-used, and the programme shows footage obviously gained in wild, natural situations.

It’s a visual feast. Sure, we live on a blue planet, but the sea isn’t just blue, fading to black as you plunge to the deep. We see vivid yellows and reds on reefs, greens and browns in temperate waters, stark white foam and spray against grey in turbulent seas. Some of the wave footage seems out of this world and I could watch an enjoyable half-hour episode of the crashing breakers and mesmerising ripples and flows on their own.

There is a formula to the Attenborough-narrated epic, and BP2 doesn’t deviate far from that. There are creatures with a definite “ah factor”, mixed with some scenes of the menacing hunter and the hunted in dire peril. Stories flow in a series of well told scenarios. Some of them wouldn’t be believable if it weren’t for the evidence, in glorious colour and detail, plainly going on before your eyes.

Underwater, surprise can come from any dimension – above, below, from behind the camera, even breaking between media in surface to air attacks. Newly discovered relationships between different species are revealed, and myths dispelled – the reputed six-second memory of a goldfish can go in the dustbin, belied by what a tuskfish gets up to in one of the longer sequences that shows a behaviour built up over a long period of feeding on tough-shelled clams. The intelligence of many of the animals portrayed is a strong theme all through.

Technology has moved on since the original Blue Planet series, which itself came just at the point when the digital revolution was in its infancy. Now, portable cameras pick up seemingly impossible situations amongst wildlife, which behaves as if unobserved.

There are some references to environmental matters, and in this age of “balanced” news reporting, it is good to hear Attenborough state that climate change is “most likely caused by human activity”. The original series was notable for its absence of comment on environmental conditions, until the very final episode. Without over-stating it, environmental changes were alluded to on four or five separate occasions here, so that scenes where the volume of life before the camera seems mind-blowingly rich (shoaling herring gulped up by a range of hungry-mouthed predators, healthy coral reefs populated by a myriad of fish) is largely balanced by references to change that is going on, and the inference that this isn’t all to the good.

A criticism? The need for a series to do well in international markets does mean that film from locations all around the world has to be used, but I’m sure there could be a bit more of the BBC’s local underwater spectacle featuring amongst the global fayre on offer. Hopefully this will come in forthcoming journeys of discovery during the series.

What will the wider audience make of it? I suspect we’ll find out in conversations in work, school and pub over the next few days. Nobody would say it was dull. The exciting “Into the Blue” closing sequence was a joy in itself to watch. At the end, the hour seemed just a little too short.

Get ready to breathe in deep for episode two!

If you have been inspired by the programme, read more here.