The most dynamic, complex, beautiful, heartbreaking, and engrossing story on TV this year is about a fish. Or was it the turtle? The walruses maybe. Oh, don’t forget about the dolphins. And the deep sea bioluminescent creatures. And for the love of God don’t forget the humans who dared to film all of this in incredibly perilous conditions with technology so cutting-edge that scientific papers have been written based off of the footage.
It all comes together, of course, as Blue Planet II, a follow-up to 2001’s seminal documentary series. The new chapter took over 4 years to film (you can learn more about that filming here), and the results are stunning. Airing on BBC America in the U.S., Blue Planet II is again (and of course) narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and takes us on dives across and deep into all of the world’s oceans. But the real trick of Blue Planet II is that despite its deluge of amazing facts and oceanic education, it never feels like homework. It is stunning, delightful, and even terrifying — in more ways than one.
To mention even a fraction of the astounding behaviors and creatures that are examined in the new episodes is impossible, but it’s worth a try: surfing dolphins, a fish using a tool (!), the cannibalism of humboldt squid, the horrifying one meter-long Bobbit worm, a fish called a trevally that can basically calculate the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow (or more accurately, a shore bird) to snatch it out of midair. There are grouper making friends with octopi, eternal lifeforms in the blackest reaches of the Arctic seas, and a fish that has been sitting on the ocean floor for so long that its fins have turned into feet.
Blue Planet II is so visually tantalizing that it really demands visceral reactions. Joy, terror, confusion, and celebration are commonplace when watching these stunning sea stories, enjoyed thanks to things like bubble-less diving equipment that allows the camera operators to get closer to their subjects than ever before. (To that end, do not miss out on “Into the Blue” at the end of each episode, which shows more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating a series like this — it’s mind-boggling). It’s exciting, yes, exciting to learn!
Besides being a soothing cure for the winter doldrums (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere), Blue Planet II is a reminder of just how vast and beautiful the world is, even when “there is a Bobbit about!” (Remember — in the deep ocean, no one can hear you scream). Something that could be as traumatizing as seeing the blood from a sperm whale carcass being ripped apart by sharks becomes almost beautiful as that red water paints the current after a whale fall that will feed seafloor critters for decades. The Arctic’s blackened “Midnight Zone” is the stuff of nightmares as much as a chilled out turtle spa looks heavenly. Hans Zimmer‘s soulful score is matched perfectly to the series’ stories, enhancing what is already an incredible feat of television.
Yet one of the more devastating aspects of the series is, of course, how the oceans are changing because of warming temperatures. The show is careful in its wording, mentioning that “melting most likely attributed to human activity.” But the scenes of limited ice for walruses to clamber upon for safety, or of “bleached” coral reefs that are essentially a wasteland of death, all speak for themselves. Take what you will from it, but it is very clear that as astonishing as the world’s oceans are, there are consequences to humanity’s imprint upon them.
There really cannot be enough praise for the series, which knows how important it is to engage viewers on both an emotional and intellectual level. The results are a riveting, often heartbreaking look at both the strength and fragility of the world’s oceans. It is a series that cannot be missed, and one that will leave you breathless given the scope of its fascinating but urgent message. Basically, it’ll f— you up real good.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent and Essential — Do. Not. Miss. It.
Blue Planet II premieres Saturday, January 20th on BBC America.