It’s a common complaint these days: there’s nothing original on the screen, with cinema being stuffed full of sequels, remakes and comic-book adaptations. And I agree myself, to a degree. However, there’s two things worth bearing in mind: first, originality does not always equal quality; case in point – Adam Sandler’s career. Second is the inverse to my previous point: lack of originality does not hinder quality. An unoriginal idea, when given time and dedication by people who care about it, can still produce something amazing. With this in mind, I sat down to watch Episode 1 of Blue Planet II, the sequel to one of the most ground-breaking documentaries of all time.
Sixteen years ago, The Blue Planet revealed the world below the waves in a way that had never been seen before. Following the stellar success of Planet Earth II last year, which picked up from Blue Planet’s even more revolutionary follow-up, a second Blue Planet was inevitable. And the result is everything you can expect from the BBC Natural History Unit: stunning visuals, fascinating stories, innovative filming and an all-round incredible product.
The music ushers us in. Hans Zimmer excels again, even if this score has a very different personality to that of Planet Earth II, whose bold, brash, heavenly choir perfectly encapsulated the scale and majesty of the Earth. This score, by contrast, is an energised yet graceful serenade, gently flowing and caressing you, just like the sea itself.
Cut to David Attenborough standing on the decks of a boat, with dolphins close in tow. He’s 91, but shows no sign of acknowledging it. Where most people in his place would have retired decades ago, he’s going as strong as ever. Even though he prefers to step away from the camera and let his voice do most of the work, it’s still evident how much he loves the natural world.
We are then gently eased underwater, into the coral reef below, and learn, among other things, that one fish – the tuskfish – uses tools. From there, we are provided tasters of different ocean habitats, with no end of breathtaking footage from all across the world. By the time we were introduced to Mobula Rays chasing bio-luminescent plankton by night, you can’t help but smile. And to top the already high bar they set for themselves, we are treated to a closing scene of humpback whales and orcas in the Norwegian fjords, hunting shoals of herring. We even learn how the latter hunts by swiping its tail down, stunning fish with a blast of high-pressure water.
And on that note we end the first episode. But what a ride!
This was an incredible documentary: smart, compelling, revealing and visually amazing. It epitomises everything that’s great about the BBC Natural History Unit, and like many a documentary from that studio before it, fully justifies the existence of the license fee. It’s a worthy sequel to The Blue Planet, and as a standalone documentary it really delivers. I can’t wait for the next installments, which includes footage from Britain; and, of course, it goes to show that lack of originality does not stop something from being a masterpiece.