The BBC might not have invented the nature documentary, but over the last couple decades they’ve certainly elevated it. Those crazy Brits turned stodgy nature shows into headline events, from the mind blowing and revolutionary cinematography techniques in the Secret Life of Plants and enthralling use of computer generated graphics to make dinosaurs come to life in Walking with Dinosaurs to their triumphant Planet Earth mini-series.
The original Planet Earth helped usher in HDTV. Filmed in HD, it was incontrovertible proof that a sharper picture could make your viewing pleasure explode. With the sequel, BBC has raised the bar even further. Filmed in 4K to make the most visual impact, this is the single greatest reason to upgrade that old, obsolete 1080p set. Planet Earth II is stunning in normal HD—be it via cable or satellite or Blu-ray—but it’s thoroughly amazing in 4K. This is doubly true on 4K UHD Blu-ray, which is the absolute best way to experience the most insanely spectacular view of our planet short of actually going into space.
If you think you aren’t into this whole nature documentary thing because you once watched an episode of Nature (which are also great, by the way) or something on Animal Planet, it’s time to reevaluate. It’s not just the dulcet tones of narrator David Attenborough, who, for me, will always be the quintessential tour guide to the world. There’s a point, early on, when it’s clear this isn’t just some overdone animal porn meant to dryly educate the masses.
Actually, that point occurs in the first episode in “Islands” while you watch komodo dragons go at each other with a ferocity and physicality of pro wrestlers. Combined with the pristine video quality and absolutely pounding theatrical surround sound, I was not just entertained, but enthralled. So, as it turned out, was everyone else in the house.
Planet Earth II is, in every sense, a blockbuster theatrical event made for your personal theater.
Such scenes are pure insanity, made more intense because you know they’re actually real. A few minutes on, we’re transported to the Galapagos where we bear witness to one of the most intense chase sequences ever put to film, real or otherwise. In a bit sure to induce a fear of snakes around the world, I watched in tense awe as newly hatched baby marine iguanas run the gauntlet from hell—a rocky outcropping literally swarming with snakes intent on devouring the hatchlings.
There’s a lot of animals dying horrible deaths in Planet Earth II, so if you’ve never seen it, there’s an intensity to the outcome that’s unmatched by fiction. It’s a unique experience, where anything can happen and the outcome isn’t so sanitized that you can guess which animal survives.
Across six episodes, I’m shown one thing after another I’ve never seen before, or at least not in such detail. As you probably could have guessed, how the BBC filmed Planet Earth II was intense. Gordon Buchanan was behind the filming, and getting shots like the rarely seen cats hunting at night required extensive thermal rigs. Heat-sensitive cameras, drones and stabilized rigs were also used to get some of the shots I described.
Over the course of about six hours, I learned male snow leopards are misogynistic pricks, while Birds of Paradise are remarkable progressive. Flamingos can live in toxic, nearly alien landscapes and dance like crazy. Baby Spider monkeys don’t automatically know how to climb, mushrooms glow, and my new animal role model, the male sloth, will traverse rivers for a booty call.
The experience wouldn’t be the same watching it in a lesser format. Planet Earth II is, in every sense, a blockbuster theatrical event made for your personal theater. Just like regular blu-rays, 4K discs simply look and sound better than any other medium. Maybe you bought a Samsung TV and got that 4K player free with it or perhaps you’re a gamer who picked up the absurdly cheap Xbox One S with a 4K UHD disc drive in it. You’ve been wondering what to do with it, right? Pacific Rim is amazing in 4K, but what else?
This is what else. This is the disc to show off to your family or random people who wander into your house wondering why you needed to upgrade to an even bigger, more expensive TV. Wrestling komodo dragons, iguanas running for their lives, flamingos on parade, and jaguars hunting caimans. This is what 4K was meant for.