The BBC’s upcoming blockbuster nature series, Planet Earth II, is set to be the most jaw-dropping, experience of the natural world yet. From the comfort of our homes we will witness the best nature has to offer, filmed in gorgeous HD, never missing a detail.
Suffice to say, we are all excited to start our journey through the world’s most beautiful wildernesses, meet its inhabitants and get involved in the drama of their existence. All this with our favourite tour guide, David Attenborough, providing a fascinating narration.
Whilst there’s no doubt that this will be one of the most entertaining and informative documentary series to be released in some time, the resurgence of flagship wildlife films raises some interesting questions.
In a world suffering from untold destruction of the natural world, are documentaries like Planet Earth telling a fiction? They undoubtedly offer magnificent windows into the natural world; but is their romanticised view of wilderness masking the darker side of habitat destruction and threatened species?
Doctor Morgan Richards, author of Wild Visions: The BBC and the Rise of Wildlife Documentary, believes the “spectacularisation of wildlife footage limits the extent to which environmental politics can be explored.” Audiences have an ever-growing expectation to see detailed, intimate shots of wildlife and their behaviour. They want to see inside the den of a polar bear, watch a leopard raise its cubs or a pack of wolves chase down an elk. This leaves little room to discuss the underlying issues affecting the environment, especially given these so-called ‘blue chip’ documentaries strive to frame animals in a ‘pristine wilderness’.
The role of wildlife documentaries needs to be clarified now more than ever. As we race against species extinction and climate catastrophe, these programmes need to demonstrate our relationship with the natural world. Perhaps wide-reaching educational media like Planet Earth II need to inform people about what’s really going on; the stranglehold that our economic and political systems have on the environment and how we, as individuals and societies, can tackle them.
Is environmental politics within the remit of natural history documentaries? Do state-owned broadcasting companies, like the BBC, have a ‘social responsibility’ to make environmental issues clear? Are entertainment and education always at odds?
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