Planet Earth II
A jawdroppingly gorgeous exploration of earth beyond the human.
Streaming on Netflix | 2017 | TV-G | 1 season, 6 episodes
Genre: Nature docu-series
Why Did I Watch: A few weeks ago I was on vacation with three of my very favorite humans. (Hi, Katelyn, Elliott, and Ethan! I miss you all already.) We had just stuffed ourselves with an inordinate amount of barbecue and were looking for something to watch in our ribs-induced food comas. After a trip to the zoo earlier that afternoon, Planet Earth II was the perfect follow up.
You Might Also Like: Big surprise: Planet Earth, which premiered a decade before the second installment. It was the most expensive nature docu-series commissioned by BBC at the time of its release, and also the first to be filmed in high definition. If you're interested in a deeper dive, Wonders of Mexico (2018, PBS), travels Mexico from north to south and explores wildlife alongside the country's vibrant culture.
"In the last 6,000 years, the surface of our planet has undergone a sudden change," narrates David Attenborough. "A new habitat has appeared, entirely designed and constructed by one species for its own purpose." These are the opening lines of "Cities," Planet Earth II's finale. In context of the episode, the invention of a new habitat is novel—a "surprising opportunity," as Attenborough calls it. Yet, as the show continually acknowledges, the human's impulse to engineer a habitat "for its own purpose" has irreversibly altered the world for wildlife, too.
There have been several think pieces analyzing Planet Earth II's treatment of environmental destruction, arguing that the show couldn't avoid humans' transformation of the environment or that it toes the line between condoning and critiquing human urbanization. Although the series won't leave you with a radical argument about climate change—and never set out to—it confronts the audience with uncomfortable questions: what is the human's role in the environment? And what might the world look like without us?
To achieve the massive feat of exploring our entire planet, Planet Earth II features a biome per episode: islands, mountains, deserts, grasslands, and cities. The show travels everywhere from the remote Zavodoski Island to the mountains of Chile to the gritty terrain of Jodphur, New York City, Mumbai, and Rome. The locations are impressive on their own, yet the show's greatest strength is how it is filmed. In addition to every frame having 4K resolution (four times that of high definition), the camerawork is creative. The show uses drones to shoot several of the remote islands; places cameras in traps to watch snow leopards, which otherwise live in solitude; and even straps Go Pro-like cameras to golden eagles to simulate what it's like to fly. It's like being dropped in the middle of the most exciting chase scene you'll see on Netflix.
The series is aurally rich, too, between famed British broadcaster David Attenborough and a compelling score, composed by Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea, and Jasha Klebe. (Yes, I was skeptical when my friend said he runs to parts of the score. Yes, I've already listened to it five six times at work.) The score balances subtle, harmonic notes with epic, energy-boosting percussive rhythms, best exemplified by the iguana chase scene and the eco-conscious architecture of Singapore. It amplifies the terror of certain ecosystems, all the while creating an underlying sense of enjoyment and hope for nature. And perhaps it is this final sequence that captures Planet Earth II's optimism for Earth's future: humans and wildlife living harmoniously in an environment designed for all of us.