The latest BBC Earth nature special is Africa: Eye to Eye With the Unknown, now available on Blu-ray and DVD. It may seem a predictable subject, as so many productions about the continent have already been done. In fact, when I think of nature specials, I think of Africa. However, this Africa has plenty of fresh, new material to present, and should not seem boring or like its just re-covering popular topics.
Africa is hosted by the legendary Sir David Attenborough, a frequent contributor to the BBC Earth series. His presence immediately lends a weight and reliability to the material presented, and he also makes an engaging host. As long as Attenborough wants to keep narrating and producing such specials, the public will keep eating them up.
Africa is presented in six parts: “Kalahari,” “Savannah,” “Congo,” “Cape,” “Sahara,” and “The Future.” Obviously, the first five pieces cover the different regions within the vast land mass. Animals and vegetation vary quite a bit from one coast to another, not to mention in between, and this natural dividing point shows us the varying landscapes and the types of creatures that inhabit them.
Among the highlights of these are encounters with animals like kick-boxing leaf frogs, huge penguin breeding grounds, lizards that live on the backs of lions, and chimpanzees that have developed tools to get the honey they crave. We see amazing landscapes, like the largest underground lake on the planet, a climb up steep mountains, a journey into lush valleys, and, of course, the infamous grasslands.
“The Future” is the final part. Rather than just talk in broad strokes about the what the future holds, the series introduces a baby rhino to represent the face of the changes now taking place in this environment. Once a highly endangered species, and while by no means safe now, rhinos have been making a come back. Can we apply what we’ve learned here to other species? Can we bring back lost landscapes? Is there a way for man to co-exist with the world as it was before we invaded and changed it? “The Future” ponders all of this and more.
The producers don’t just save the plea to save Africa’s wildlife for the final hour. The entire series is a love letter to the continent, and a look at how the place is changing. Fifty years ago, Africa would have been a very different series. Fifty years from now, it will probably be drastically different, too, and its up to the humans to determine how that land will look. We like to think of some environments as unchanging, surviving through the centuries, despite us. That isn’t the nature of life, and that isn’t the story of Africa.
As usual, Africa looks phenomenal. It benefits from the switch to high definition that many BBC Earth shows are now use, and we get a look at a stunningly detailed landscape. The level of crispness and vividness is impressive, and while the picture quality does vary somewhat from scene to scene, based on a number of factors, such as the type of cameras used and the environment being shot, the overall consistency is well above average, and few will find reasons to complain about the colors or sharpness.
The sound is also top notch, Attenborough’s voice soothingly interlaces with the sounds of the planet. Mixing has been done well so that we can hear the places being shown as if we are there. Each little noise is picked up as the sounds of Africa are every bit as important to the story as the visuals. It’s a fine, naturalistic soundtrack, lacking distracting pops and steep level changes.