A show like “Planet Earth II” doesn’t come around every day. In fact, it’s been 10 years since the original nature docuseries wowed the world with mind-blowing filmmaking that was both visually breathtaking and emotionally stirring. Now it’s back and better than ever, featuring even more rare looks at the world around us, great storytelling and the original narration by David Attenborough (last time, we Yanks got the Sigourney Weaver dub).
In an age when we watch shows on phones or tablets with half of our attention or binge a show in order to avoid spoilers, “Planet Earth II” is a compelling argument to slow down and savor what is simply great television. Here’s a guide to maximizing your “Planet Earth II” viewing experience:
1. Get Thee to a Great TV
There is nothing wrong with hanging onto your regular old TV (for financial or sentimental reasons), but if you or someone you know has an HDTV, then that is what you should watch “Planet Earth II” on. The bigger the better to immerse yourself in the gorgeous photography and the environments pictured that most of us will never be able to access in our lives. While the first “Planet Earth” was shot in HD, the sequel was shot in Ultra HD, aka 4K. While the human eye may be too limited to fully appreciate the resolution of 4K, the dynamic range and color will be insane. You’ll be able to appreciate the flamingos in all their glory.
Each of the episodes features one habitat: “Islands,” “Mountains,” “Jungles,” Deserts,” “Grasslands,” and “Cities.” A seventh episode called “A World of Wonder” will give a behind-the-scenes look at the lengths the filmmakers took to capture the amazing footage.
2. Pump Up the Jams
We defy you to watch this extended trailer below and not have a strong, almost visceral reaction. While the imagery is dramatic, it’s the music that makes it sublime. Legendary Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer led a team that included Jasha Klebe and Jacob Shea to create the trailer theme and the series’ score.
“That trailer music, we were thrilled to bits when Hans and his team came up with that, because it felt in some way emotional but also quite uplifting, and I think that’s what we wanted to set the tone of the series with,” Elizabeth White, who had produced the “Islands” episode on the series, told IndieWire.
3. Keep Good Company
Whether it’s your family, friends or co-workers, watching the series with someone will make the experience infinitely better. Series executive producer Mike Gunton explained, “People are saying, ‘Come and watch it with me. Let’s do this as an experience together.’ I think it’s because there’s something about the emotions in there that you want to share with somebody.”
Being part of an audience even further emphasizes how connected you are with the world, which in itself is essential for this type of programming. The series isn’t aimed at any one type of demographic either.
“My nephew who’s in his 20s, when ‘Planet Earth II’ came out [in the UK], he would book a room and a hall, and all of his friends they would buy beers and they’d all have a ‘Planet Earth II’ viewing party,” Gunton noted. “These are guys who are motorbikers, these are not nerds. These are cool guys.”
“The real surprise for us has been that with natural history and factual programs… the median age is usually late 40s, early 50s even,” he continued. “Whereas we’ve had this extraordinary bulge of viewers in the 16-t0-35-year-old [demographic]. Young kids watching it, watching it with their families but also young adults wanting to watch it on their own. That’s unheard of. There’s a series called ‘X Factor’ on ITV and more people between 16 and 35 watch ‘Planet Earth’ than watch ‘X Factor.’ And ‘X Factor’ is targeted at 16- to 35-year-olds.”
4. Brush Up on Your Social Media Skills
By all means, turning off your devices and going social media silent is a great way to fully immerse yourself into the program without distractions. But for those who are tied to their social media, it could be a great way to amplify the viewing experience. There is an extra thrill and feeling of appreciation for your fellow man when you bond over the same experience with a complete stranger.
White noted that the amount of Twitter traffic spiked during the airing of the show in the UK, and that one person aptly captured the phenomenon. “There was a lovely tweet that went out when ‘Islands’ went out,’ she said. “Somebody tweeted, ‘The whole nation gets together to shout, “Run, iguana, run!”’ That’s what it felt like.”
Before you tweet, though, here are a couple tips to keep in mind:
a. The show’s hashtag is #PlanetEarth2
b. The proper spelling for what you’re feeling is “whoa.”
Here’s the viral iguana clip that White mentioned, which got everyone invested in the reptile’s fate:
5. Remember the Prime Directive
Granted, this isn’t Starfleet, and we’re not specifically talking about giving technology to animals. But there is a general rule of non-interference we need to keep in mind for these civilizations, especially when there will be challenging scenes to watch. You will shout at the TV and cringe at moments when an animal dies or suffers due to environmental conditions or being attacked by a predator. But this is not necessarily cruelty, and it is not the filmmaker’s responsibility to swoop in and rescue them. Remember Elton John’s song about the “Circle of Life”?
One of the best sequences in the “Islands” episode features adorable chinstrap penguins who leap off rocky cliffs into choppy waters in order to catch fish for their offspring who are waiting. This is not an easy feat, and some penguins get mangled or even perish in the process.
It was hard for White to watch this in person, but she knew she had to accurately depict this daily struggle for it to have weight — and also embrace the victories when they came. In particular, she and the cameraman saw a penguin with a giant laceration diagonally across its body that looked like a macabre red sash.
“We were looking specifically for injured ones because there were quite a lot that day, and [this penguin] got this really distinctive cut.,” she said. “And about two days later, we saw it coming back and its cut was all kind of a bit, like, a scab. It was already kind of glued down and ‘Da-da-da-da-da-da-da!’ [in a sing-song voice] it goes off back to sea. They are so robust! We saw them with wounds and bits missing and they just kind of carry on. I think it’s the salt water. We obviously saw a lot that didn’t make it, but some of them you’d think were a goner and they were fine.”
6. Avoid Eating
Elaborate meals are out of the question while watching this series. Not only can they get messy or take your attention away from the drama, but some of the hunting scenes can mess with your mind if you happen to be chowing down while a predator is too. Stick to snack-y bites, and you should be fine.
7. Monitor Your Intake
Some may find that watching TV while under the influence of, well, anything can enhance the experience, especially when the program is as stimulating as “Planet Earth II” is. A couple of cocktails could make you more relaxed and receptive to the awe-inspiring tableaus playing out on the screen. But it should be noted that the level of intoxication shouldn’t overtake the viewing itself, which is already pleasurable enough.
As for the more illicit or medicinal stuff, fans of the original series have been known to get high to watch. Speculating on why that behavior may pair with the show, Gunton said, “It’s visually so vivid and completely outside of their experience. The first ‘Planet Earth’ was very much a stoner experience because the pace was much slower, much more elegiac. You glide over these ever more dramatic landscapes.”
Then he added, “We should say that the BBC does not in any way endorse this activity.”
Whichever way you decide to watch “Planet Earth II,” the important thing is to watch it. The show premieres Saturday, Feb. 18 at 9 p.m., simulcast on BBC America, AMC and Sundance.