Wanderlust contributing editor Paul Goldstein on this week's episode and why Frozen Planet is the 'greatest documentary series ever'
Is it running out of steam, no. Has it dropped off a touch, perhaps, but Frozen Planet is still the best thing on TV, which makes their sell out to the foreign markets on climate change so galling. However, more of that below, permit me to discuss last night's bonanza.
Initially I thought I was watching ITV in the early 90s as the backlit yellow bear resembled a Timotei advert (don't pretend you can't remember), it was, literally, gold, and set alchemists bar that for a while was occupied by fool's gold, as the mock-fighting bears, accompanied of course by puerile cartoon music failed to liven up the the pristine ice bears of earlier episodes. This was probably something to do with looking as though they were fighting in a Berkshire landfill park rather than on crackling sea ice, however the footage was resurrected by the overhead swimming shot.
Belugas are a tough subject, these cetaceous critters barely raise their heads but the shallow water exfoliation was spectacular and original, no doubt there were a lot of essential oils and anti-oxidants floating around there. Good footage and an interesting take on an endearing species and again the overhead stuff was impeccable.
I have been to those bird cliffs in Alkefjellet in Spitsbergen many times. This is prime avian real estate, the towering basalt sentinels with their crenulated faces proving perfect tenements for these monochromed birds. The fox grab was shocking but brilliant and the young fledglings efforts to learn their wings again ground-breaking, as the angle they were shot from seemed impossible. Once the footage moved onto the bears on the whale carcass I again had deja vu as in 2010 I, along with 100 others on two separate expeditions, spent about three days near that carcass. Those memorable days still rank among my best ever.
However, suddenly the documentary turned from exquisite camera angles and footage to extraordinary effects – the grease ice morphing into pancake ice and the sinister hoar frost looked like Terminator out-takes – it was captivating. Frozen Planet has not been shy in showing off their time delay techniques, which boast both breathtaking brilliance and a burgeoning budget but who cares, it's what TV money is for.
Emperors, yes, time to name drop again as the overhead migrating shots were taken in November 2009 on the famously delayed expedition that had longer in the ice than normal. The whole sequence was marvellous and I will only throw marginal leather this week on the smug 'Freeze Frame' as the footage under the ice was hauntingly brilliant.
Penguins are the most streamlined 'things' in the world, natural or man-made, and they came alive in the midnight blue depths. It was both peaceful, mystical and for once backed by some equally moving music. This whole section is still a conceit which belongs on the DVD package but last night's was worthy of taking ten minutes out of the show.
However, the newspapers tell me, “the BBC has dropped an episode from its wildlife series Frozen Planet, which deals with climate change, to help the show sell better abroad.” (Daily Telegraph – Tuesday 15 November).
Their defence that, “it was standard practice to offer international clients only the parts they wished to purchase,” is as disingenuous as it is outrageous.
Discovery, which shows the series in the US had a “scheduling issue so only had slots for six episodes.” This is equally cynical as this is the greatest documentary series ever and to give climate change sceptics ie the US a chance to censor the programme is devaluing the whole project.
On Thin Ice features Sir David Attenborough, at 85, talking at length about the melting of the ice. This is not some bunny-hugging pious wannabe crapping on about global warming. This is Sir David discussing issues backed by irrefutable facts. A third of the 30 networks that have bought the series have rejected this last show, so the BBC may have felt their hand was forced; what a load of spineless nonsense. The networks that have refused this supposedly contentious episode are undoubtedly ones from countries that are not only luke warm on climate change but are probably responsible for most of it.
It is a disgrace. A spokesman for Greenpeace said, “It's a bit like pressing the stop button on the Titanic just as the iceberg appears. Climate change is the most important part of the polar story.” Exactly.
These decisions are both political and mercenary and are 'cold comfort' to those polar bears desperately waiting longer each year in the Canadian Arctic for their larder to freeze.