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'Blue Planet II' Celebrates The Beauty Of Nature Across The Globe


This is FRESH AIR. Our TV critic David Bianculli has been watching "Blue Planet II," the latest nature documentary series presented by Sir David Attenborough. The series ends a week from Saturday, but it will be released in its entirety on home video March 6. David says wherever you can find and see it, you should.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: "Blue Planet II" already was shown in the U.K. and is now nearing the end of its run in the states on the BBC America network. It's a dazzling piece of television. And if you haven't been watching, you still can. All its episodes to date are currently available free on demand to cable or satellite subscribers who have access to BBC America. And on March 6, three days after the series finale is shown on TV, the entire series is released on DVD, Blu-ray and the even newer, more visually opulent format known as 4K Ultra HD. Yes, technology and TV formats keep advancing, and that's true on the filmmaking side, as well.

"Blue Planet II" is a sequel to a program that was filmed 17 years ago. But now scientists and filmmakers are capturing images in unprecedented, truly breathtaking ways. With both robotic and manned submersibles, they go deeper into the oceans than any filmmakers before them and find astounding evidence of life that looks as alien as any creature from a science fiction/fantasy film. They fly drones with cameras over vast ocean spaces, capturing whale migrations for the first time. They even temporarily attach cameras to shark fins and to albatrosses to find out where they go and what they do when we're not looking. In the case of the albatross, it's a literal bird's eye view.

And somehow, watching all this behavior of all these amazing creatures makes me treasure not only the planet on which we live but the state-of-the-art TV which delivers such wonders to our high-def, flat-screen televisions. And to me, one of the most amazing creatures of all in "Blue Planet II" is its human host and narrator, Sir David Attenborough. He's been making nature programs for TV since he hosted "Zoo Quest" in England in 1954. That's almost 65 years travelling around the globe, witnessing the wonders and the evolution of nature. He's now 91 and still approaches his job the same way. He speaks in a whisper that's almost conspiratorial, as if reciting a bedtime story to a grandchild. And he writes his narration so simply that children can watch and should.

In the U.S., we first got a major taste of Attenborough's magic in the 1979 nature series "Life On Earth." But since then, as some combination of writer, producer and narrator, he's turned out documentary mini series at a Ken Burns pace and of similar quality - "The Living Planet, "The Trials Of Life, "Life of Birds," "Planet Earth" and now two editions of the "Blue Planet." I recommend them all. Increasingly and with benefit of firsthand experience and evidence, Attenborough in his TV programs has sounded the alarms about rising ocean temperatures, melting polar ice caps, pollution and overfishing. But in "Blue Planet II" he adds a hopeful note that is both surprising and reassuring.

When a marine guide in Sri Lanka hears local fishermen telling tales of sperm whales gathering in large numbers off shore, that guide spends three years trying to find the whales. And when he does, "Blue Planet II" crews are there to record the spouting, the underwater clicking sounds of whale communication and the sight of whales swimming literally by the hundreds.


DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Sperm whales were once killed in vast numbers. And it's thought that if the slaughter had continued, the species would be in danger of extermination. But now, here at least, they are being seen in huge numbers.

BIANCULLI: The final episode of "Blue Planet II" spends time with the scientists and activists who work hard to protect various species and to warn of specific dangers like plastics, which, when improperly disposed of, can seep into the food chain even at the microscopic level, poisoning the milk of mother dolphins and killing birds and fish who either ingest or get caught in floating clumps of plastic garbage. Water levels and temperatures are rising. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying. But Attenborough, a living witness to it all, still finds the beauty of nature across the globe and still finds hope.


ATTENBOROUGH: We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet. And never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely, we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity and, indeed, all life on Earth now depends on us.

BIANCULLI: David Attenborough not only finds and photographs and champions our planet's natural treasures. He's one of them.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching. He reviewed the BBC documentary series "Blue Planet II." On Monday's show, cartoonist and essayist Tim Kreider and his new collection of personal essay he writes about riding a circus train to Mexico with a friend, pretending to be her husband, having a whirlwind romance with a performance artist and prostitute and about his beloved cat who turned him into someone who believes...

TIM KREIDER: A man without a cat is not a man.

DAVIES: I hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROGER DAVIDSON'S "SAMBA 3") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.