This week we’ve been catching up on the BBC’s newest nature series, “Planet Earth II.” If you watched the first series, you’ll remember it…the cinematography, the remote settings. This time around is no different. It’s Must See TV, and this time I got to thinking about why.
It’s not the incredible camera work, catching animal behavior that’s never been filmed before.
It’s not the sweeping locations, or the cool “making of…” bit at the end of each episode where you get to watch the miserable producers and camera crews suffering for months in wet jungles or frozen mountainsides waiting for whatever they’re trying to film to saunter by and do something amazing.
No, what keeps you coming back are the stories.
Better than any nature show before it, Planet Earth is telling stories.
Here’s a great example.
This is a marine iguana.
Sort of cute in a reptile kind of way. These guys live on the Galapagos Islands in huge colonies, basking on rocks. When it’s time to make more of them, they head inland and lay their eggs in the warm sand. The babies hatch, and scramble up to the surface, where they instinctively head for the safety of the rocks.
But then there’s these assholes.
Racer snakes. They’re fast and deadly and they love munching on newly-hatched baby marine iguanas.
The faster the babies hatch and run, the more of these assholes show up, slithering into nasty constrictor bundles of snake through which pokes the pathetic little leg of an unfortunate baby iguana.
It’s pretty interesting, and if that was it, you’d say, “Oh, that was pretty interesting.”
But that’s not it.
Here’s how they do it.
They set the scene.
Adult iguanas basking on rocks. Hatchlings making a run for it. Asshole snakes lining up for the buffet. You watch a whole lot of baby iguanas turning into snake dinner.
Then there’s this one.
Pretty cute, all clean and fresh in the world. You’ve just watched about ten of his brothers and sisters live their entire lives in about two minutes…hatch, run, die.
But not this guy. He’s special. You can feel it. You’ve been primed to feel it.
He takes off. And the snakes are right there.
They lunge and grab, but NO! He escapes! He powers out of the deadly grip and skitters away! More snakes follow. He runs! He jumps! He flips around avoiding the jaws of death!
By the time he makes it to the edge of the rocky safe zone, you’re on your feet screaming, “Run, ye scaley bustert, RUN!” (I’m not sure why you suddenly became Scottish during the show, but you did. You do that sometimes.)
He makes it.
That one little iguana makes it to safety.
Now I know that scene is not actually following one single iguana. I know the editing crews spliced together all the most dramatic escapes to show us this heroic run, this one little guy who beat incredible odds to find his family (who mostly seem to be just sitting there on the rocks watching this go down and doing nothing to help, because adult marine iguanas are apparently assholes too).
But it makes a great story.
It has all the elements, and answers all the questions you should be able to ask of a story.
Who is the main character? Little iguana guy.
What does he want? To reach the safety of the rocks and his uncaring iguana parents.
Why can’t he have it? Bunch of slithering assholes.
What if he doesn’t get it?
The folks at the BBC are tremendous at getting footage of animals in their habitats doing animal things.
But their triumph is how they tell the story.
And that’s where I leave you for today. Gotta go back downstairs and find out if that mama Snow Leopard turns out okay.