In a clever bit of PR from Netflix, they’ve sold this film as a nostalgic retrospective on 94-year-old Sir David Attenborough’s career, but be prepared, behind that smooth and soothing narration is a stark warning…
A Life on Our Planet plays out a bit like a horror film – it begins with shots of a rosy-cheeked young Attenborough, hanging out with orangutans and collecting fossils, before swiftly taking a turn for the horrifying. In place of Victorian ghosts in nightgowns, this horror movie has rising CO2 levels, mass deforestation, species on the brink of extinction and plunging biodiversity.
And it is brutal. The before and after shots of areas and wildlife populations destroyed by rising global temperatures and ever-growing populations are downright disturbing, made worse by shocking stats being slapped on the screen. Sir David didn’t come to play with this one – he came to spit facts and change the world.
But it would be out of character for David Attenborough, the nation’s grandpa, to let us leave on a low. Just when we think it can’t get any grimmer, in he swoops with the good news: it’s not too late to turn things around. Phew.
As with most Attenborough films, the critics were full of praise. The Guardian’s Cath Clarke says this is “a personal film – and political, too,” with “a short, sharp, shocking lesson.” Natalia Winkelman of The New York Times believes “the film’s grand achievement is that it positions its subject as a mediator between humans and the natural world. Life cycles on, and if we make the right choices, ruin can become regrowth.” And clearly this is an important lesson for us to learn, at least in the eyes of Forbes’ Dani Di Placido, who thinks this was “The Most Important Documentary Of The Year.”
And if you still want more after watching this excellent film, a book has been published to accompany it. Buy it here.
First shown October 2020. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here: