You’d agree that Sigur Rós’ Hoppípolla is quite the uplifting track. Hailing from perhaps, one of the last frontiers of untouched landscapes, you could also say that Sigur Rós has quite the affinity with nature. Singing in a mix of Hopelandic gibberish and Icelandic, the band’s ethereal soundscapes sweep across the vast landscapes, creating the kind of audio-visual magic that that makes your palms tingle and your tummy gurgle with unfamiliar warmth. So it comes as no surprise that BBC used Hoppípolla to accompany the sublime visuals for Planet Earth’s official campaign in 2006. 10 years on, Planet Earth II has returned, along with David Attenborough. And so has Hoppípolla.
You can’t help but notice a renewed sense of urgency with the track. We’ve come a long way in the short span of a decade, the crust is breaking apart and tides are rising on the daily, but we’ve barely made a dent in the cosmic scheme of things. Yet, ten years since Planet Earth, there’s nothing the environment needs more than a reminder of the breathtaking beauty we mindlessly dig up and intrude upon everyday to lead our megalomaniacal city lives.
We get a couple of selfish, city-dwelling documentary enthusiasts to weigh in on the bits of Planet Earth that have stuck with them the most.
The Giant Guano Pile
I usually stick strictly to ocean documentaries of the Shark Week variety, but there’s something rapturous about Planet Earth — the jaw-dropping cinematography and David Attenborough’s modest narration — that just does the trick for me. Heck, I’d happily watch a cinematic recreation of ‘Mein Kampf’ if it featured the same production quality and talent (but maybe don’t quote me on this). So maybe it wouldn’t seem that odd that my all-time favourite episode was always ‘Caves’, the grotesque roach mountain scene, in particular.
As Attenborough’s re-assuring commentary eases us through the the cavernous depths of Borneo’s Deer Mountain, we are greeted with millions of bats flitting above, then the camera quickly points downwards and pans swiftly across a seemingly never-ending shimmering ocean of what most would assume is batshit. Well it is, but it also isn’t. The bokeh comes into focus and you can’t help but tingle a tad. You realise that the mountain of shit is glazed with the gleaming bodies of roaches, as many as there are stars in the sky 1. It’s a microcosmic reminder that we’re just specks in the universe, feeding on shit, then dying and then being fed as shit. Now, that’s brilliant filmmaking and an education at its most sublime.
I’ll tell you about my typical day. I get up after 15 snoozes of my alarm, I get ready making sure my shoelaces are symmetrical, I get to work through thousands of working adults in the train swapping back sweat, I powder my ego by doing the best job I know how with emails and editorials, I stare at the clock and question its motive, I share a smile when I finally get to go home. And when I do get home, I unwind. I watch clips and episodes of shows to remind myself of the world outside of my predictive loop.
Planet Earth does just that. One stark reminder after another of how much this damn world has to offer. You see that clip up there? 2 minutes, but only because it’s been slowed down to add that injection of perspective in stunning high-definition. The almost biblical music reinforces purpose, while the omnipresence of Attenborough’s narration creates resonance. And the ferocity of the great white? A formality.
I stare at the thirst and determination and the brute force and the brilliance of the great white shark, and I’m fed with knowledge, but yet I feel inferior.
Maybe that’s what education really is.
We all know that space isn’t the final frontier, especially with another universe we have yet to traverse: unexplored caverns and estates hidden in the depths of the deep sea. But this episode isn’t about the fathomless yawning ocean that lives next to the earth’s core; this episode features the shallow, conceivable big blue that we think we know so well – that is, until our uneducated minds are schooled by the knowledgeable producers from the BBC. Besides spectacular aerial views of our planet’s glowing horizon from space, Shallow Seas also has starving whales, the sea’s vegetarian (and cuter) equivalent of the Anteater known as Dugongs, and a thrilling display of a shark clenching its teeth into seal flesh, slowed down to heighten your shark-phobia sparked off by Jaws. Nevertheless, I now have “scuba diving lessons” and “travel to the reefs of Indonesia and Western Australia” inscribed on my bucket list.
What I enjoyed the most was the segment about predatory dolphins. Their tale is literally a wild ride, with David Attenborough’s vocal timbre of gravitas supplementing the action-packed visuals. Wave-surfing, fish-slapping, water-splashing dolphins seem like a fun bunch to hang out with, and they whatever they’re doing looks like a ton of fun 2. Whipping out these dolphin-inspired moves the next time I go to the beach – toddlers waddling in arm-floats better watch out.
From Pole To Pole
From Pole To Pole takes viewers on a journey across the planet, shadowing the influence of the sun and it’s seasonal journey while picturesquely capturing how gradual climate change affects lives in diverse ways.
I first found myself completely floored by the grandeur of nature, then swept away by the raw, captured action of creatures in the wild. It began with Emperor penguins braving the harsh Antarctica winter, then to spring in the Arctic where polar bear cubs take first steps on rapidly thawing ice.
Then I got transported to the great Caribou migration in Canada, to Taiga, then Japan for cherry blossoms. Underwater deep into the Indian Ocean, and back to the scorching heat best found in South Africa’s Kalahari desert.
While I try my best to stay afloat these feelings of awe and wonder, it then hit me that the earth is rapidly dying all around. Thanks to global warming that I play a part in, these areas that most of humanity has never seen would slowly fade into antiquity.
Funny how Planet Earth never fails to induce an existential crisis within us all.