Documentary Review – David Attenborough: A life on our planet

David Attenborough is someone who has influenced three generations through his deeply researched and presented documentaries. At BBC, David Attenborough made films that portrayed the subject matter such that the presenter became just a medium and never overwhelmed it.

A Life on our Planet is another classic Attenborough film streaming on Netflix which is full of magical realism through the eyes of the master documentarian. He is all of 93 and does not bat an eyelid as he narrates the story of the earth he lived in for all those decades.



Netflix documentaries 1
Category : Documentaries
Director(s) :Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, Keith Scholey
Release Date : 28 September 2020
Available on : Netflix
Duration :
1h 23m
Genre(s) :-

It opens with wide span visuals of a wreck of buildings with stark contrasts to what would have once been a flourishing neighbourhood. The Chernobyl town in Ukraine which faced the worst nuclear disaster way back in 1996. Cut to the natural habitat- the forests that are fast declining, trees felled, animals losing out on their living spaces. Attenborough stares you in the face as he spells out the connecting line between the two- both are a result of bad planning and human error. Both will, he says, lead to a place which we cannot live. In all earnestness, Attenborough aims to show how we erred and how we can put it right. Having produced immensely popular series like The Living Planet, Life on Earth, the Life of Birds, Life of Mammals, Life underground, Frozen Life, etc. he stands an authority to speak on the state of the earth as it is today. John Hughes and Attenborough dig through his archives and sew a piece so splendid, it makes sense through all its patchwork.

Attenborough- the biologist, natural historian, author and TV presenter is at his splendid best, at his most comfortable setting in the nature. The thing with Attenborough when he connects the dots about the deterioration of Natural Living World is that he has witnessed first- hand the whole process downhill. As a young natural history professional, he has travelled widely and seen the flourishing nature, not very long ago- maybe five or six decades ago. He is on his feet even at 93, seeing the stark contrast between what he saw decades ago and what is no more seen or is distorted today in nature. He has seen vast grasslands, miles upon miles of virgin forests and documented it all as part of his job at BBC.

Attenborough grieves the diminishing grasslands that fostered the massive herds of wildebeest of the Serengeti herds. Old clips of him visiting and soaking in the natural lives of the inhabitants of New Guinea, amidst animals, eating the food they consumed and observing how nature nurtured and nourished these people. It’s a totally different matter today. The animal hunting that was prevalent for centuries suddenly took alarming turns when some species were wiped off the world map, all due to human greed. There was nothing that could stop this destruction except us. We would consume the earth till it was over. As awareness spread, efforts to save the natural world started taking roots.

It scares you to see scenes of massive, really giant trees being felled and to hear from him that we have felled over a trillion trees, or just about half of the rainforests of the world in these past few decades. All for regimented farming of cash crops, destroying natural habitats and utterly disturbing the underlying interlinked ecosystem of animals-birds, insects and other creatures.

And you thought it’s the destruction of trees and forests that has devastated nature? The oceans are no exception. Large fishing trailers that reaped fish as if harvesting from a farm eliminated one crucial link in the marine ecosystem- the predators that helped restore the nutrient link before it is lost to the depths of the ocean floor and unavailable anymore for the planktons. What results is a huge loss for other species that feed on these planktons, thereby destroying the whole marine cycle.

How about the air? That was not the same either. The earth was never compatible with the fire under its belly, the two frequently colliding and leading to mass extinctions even before. But in the past 200 years or so, humans mined oil and coal in such large proportions that the devastating impact was instantaneous. The resultant heat which was otherwise absorbed by the oceans, led to the greater warming of the oceans, further impacting the marine life.

On earth, at the sea, at the ice caps of the poles, humans have irreversibly damaged nature. They have replaced the wild with the tame- be it plantation trees or reared animals. Our incessant thirst for fossil fuels has warmed the earth so much, that its ice caps melted away, the oceans couldn’t absorb the heat, the rains wreck havoc everywhere and the balance has been irreparably disturbed.

Attenborough is at an advantage, having seen this devastation happen slowly but steadily over the past 9 decades of his life. He has seen how humans have put nature to use for themselves. You can sense the palpable pain in his voice as he mourns the decline of life in his lifetime. What would happen in the near future is anyone’s guess. The oceans becoming more acidic means the marine population dying. The thawed soils of the poles release more methane than humans did. The farms are unable to support the growing number of people on the planet.

Solutions to problems

But thankfully, all is not lost if we act thoughtfully.

Education and healthcare are two great determinants of this change. It makes people more aware of the damage and inclined towards doing something to stop this damage. Declining populations have become the trend in many countries.

People have started becoming sensitive about this damage and destruction. Solar energy is fast replacing fossil fuel and solar plants are gaining momentum. The sun provides 20 times more energy than we need but lay untapped.

A healthier world means a better standard of living for all.

Farming using modern techniques without the use of soil and less water, means less impact on the earth to feed its people. If humans can find ways to live life in a different way, altering the way they grow food indoors, the way they recycle their waste, the renewable energy options and the sustainable industries, we can benefit the land rather than hinder wilderness. The film is David Attenborough’s witness statement of a life spread across 9 decades and more. If he has seen the decline and knows it can be reversed, it’s up to us to act. It’s just a matter of willingness, for only humans can fathom the present and think about the future.

Here is a trailer of the thought provoking documentary from Netflix:

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