Nature's Ready For Her Close-Up: 'Planet Earth II' Returns In Ultra High-Def

Feb 17, 2017
Originally published on February 17, 2017 9:41 am

The BBC nature series Planet Earth II doesn't debut on BBC America until Saturday, but one of its scenes has already been viewed online more than 9 million times. The two-minute clip shows a baby iguana running for its life through a pit of hungry snakes. (Does he make it? Watch the clip below to find out ...)

Planet Earth II uses all the narrative devices of narrative film-making — there's emotional scoring, heavy editing and most crucially, an individual animal's struggle to survive.

Narrated by famed naturalist David Attenborough, Planet Earth was one of the first blockbuster high-definition TV shows a decade ago. Now, it's filmed in ultra-high-def. Drones and light-weight steady cams bring viewers right up next to animals.

"Once you're with those creatures almost looking at it through their eyes you can tell a slightly more emotional connecting story," explains executive producer Mike Gunton.

The biggest departure from the first series is an entire episode devoted to cities. Throughout most of the episode, animals are shown thriving in human environments ... that is, until we meet a small army of sea turtle hatchlings in Barbados.

They're supposed to be marching toward the moonlight and the sea, but they've gotten disoriented by streetlights and are now heading into oncoming traffic.

Planet Earth II offers these scenes of nature — in all its majesty and fragility — close-up, and in ultra-high-definition, starting Saturday on BBC America.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The BBC series "Planet Earth" was one of the first blockbuster high-definition TV shows a decade ago. Tomorrow, "Planet Earth II" debuts on BBC America. And this time, it is said to be in ultrahigh def. Reporter Will Huntsberry found an early sign of its popularity. The online trailer promoting this has already been seen more than 9 million times.

WILL HUNTSBERRY, BYLINE: The two-minute online clip has all the tension of the best chase scenes. There's just a sandy strip of ground with a baby iguana and a whole lot of hungry snakes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLANET EARTH II")

HUNTSBERRY: The baby iguana makes a dash for safety. The snakes are close behind. It's about to get away. But then...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLANET EARTH II")

HUNTSBERRY: ...The iguana is swallowed in a swarming ball. Incredibly, it gets free. It jumps for the highest rock. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLANET EARTH II")

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: (As narrator) A near-miraculous escape.

HUNTSBERRY: David Attenborough, famed naturalist and narrator.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLANET EARTH II")

ATTENBOROUGH: (As narrator) The lucky survivors could begin learning the unique way of life demanded by this hostile island.

HUNTSBERRY: "Planet Earth II" uses all the devices of narrative filmmaking. There is emotional scoring, heavy editing and, most crucially, an individual animal's struggle to survive. Along with ultrahigh definition cameras, the series uses innovations in photography, like drones and lightweight steady cams, to get right up next to animals. Here's the show's executive producer, Mike Gunton.

MIKE GUNTON: Once you're with those creatures - once you're in their world, almost looking at it through their eyes, you can tell a slightly more emotionally connecting story.

HUNTSBERRY: The biggest departure from the first series is an entire episode devoted to cities. Most of the episode shows animals thriving in human environments until we meet sea turtle hatchlings in Barbados. Instead of heading towards the moonlight and the sea, they're heading towards the street lights and a road.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLANET EARTH II")

ATTENBOROUGH: (As narrator) The lights become more and more bewildering. Eighty percent of all hatchlings on this beach are now disorientated by the lights of the town.

HUNTSBERRY: The series strives for wonder. But each episode of "Planet Earth II" includes at least one scene like this, illustrating nature's increasing fragility.

For NPR News, I'm Will Huntsberry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOCKLINE'S "MAYA BAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.