I got rather spoiled with Planet Earth, Life, etc., and for me to invest an hour to watch a nature documentary, it better be worth my time. Four minutes in to this episode, I was hooked. Twenty minutes in, I wanted to sign up for the whole series. The vistas, even seen from my 15” laptop screen, are breathtaking. Seeing this on an HD big-screen TV would be a heck of an experience.
I loved the soundtrack, ranging from the twang of western chords and the foreboding thrum, to melodic, ethereal, and even whimsical. It melts into the background as if it belongs to the scenery.
Actor, filmmaker and humanitarian Forest Whitaker narrates this series, and his craftsmanship as a storyteller shines. I don’t imagine anyone else could have brought the vignettes to life quite as he did.
The camera’s treatment of the animals is a window into their souls, granting us the humanistic sense that, as different to us as they are, they are yet our kin in a deeper sense than DNA suggests. I am continuously awed by how far documentary filmmakers have come in a handful of decades, with innovations opening new doors to hitherto undiscoverable worlds. Twenty-one different cameras were used in the making of this series, including a newly developed camera system that utilizes starlight to capture a wide range shot without the use of other lights, flash, etc.
In the second half of the episode, we’re transported into the darkness and the hope locked deep within the caverns of the Kalahari (the ironically-named Dragon’s Breath Cave, which is cool and serene); this cave was discovered only a handful of years ago (1986) and filmed for the very first time by the Africa crew.
This documentary is family-friendly, depending on the sensitivity of the child; there are very few fight scenes, no gore, and the most terrifying point is a brief cannibalistic scene (twenty-four minutes in, or half an hour in with commercials) where some omnivorous insects turn on one of their own. I would possibly watch this with my 7-year-old cousin if I knew in advance where I could forewarn him. (So, parents, minor spoilers: scary moments include a smack-down between giraffes four minutes in, a standoff between a wasp and a spider about 15 minutes in, and insects infiltrating a nest with baby birds 22 minutes in.)