Human Planet (BBC)
Shot over the course of three years by a crew of BBC filmmakers, Human Planet” follows Earth and Life quite nicely as the final leg of the unofficial trilogy of world-class natural history documentary series of life on Earth made for British TV. Though not a literal sequel, it maintains the same high quality of HD photography of landscapes and eco-systems all of the globe. In this case, however, the primary focus is not wildlife but human life and its evolution within the different environments of the earth.
“Only one creature has carved a life for itself in every habitat on Earth,” explains series narrator John Hurt at the opening of each episode. “That creature is us.” Each of the eight 50-minute episodes profiles a different environment—”Oceans,” “Deserts,” “Arctic,” “Jungles,” “Mountains,” “Grasslands,” “Rivers” and finally “Cities”—and traces the relationship between mankind and its environment from primitive culture (at least as preserved in traditional societies around the globe) to modern life, surveying how humans first adapted to survive in the different environments and how out relationship has involved, thanks to technology.
Curiously, the photography of this film, while brilliant, lacks the sheer visual majesty of Earth and Life, which offered some of the most privileged footage of animals in the wild ever captured as moving images. This is much more intimate and involved with the people and societies shown in screen, the filmmakers working with the subjects rather than spying from far away with telephoto lenses. But it’s not a matter of observation so much as focus; it’s as if chronicling human activity is somehow less impressive, less exciting, less awe-inspiring that seeing wild life in the landscape. Even the most impressive feats and unusual details of human life in other cultures (and there are some tremendous scenes and amazing aspects captured by the filmmakers) are somehow more familiar than the primal lives of the animal kingdom.