Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Screen Review: Life on Our Planet

Review: Life on Our Planet

Katie Matthews discusses the new Netflix documentary series, noting how the emphasis on entertaining theatricality may have overshadowed its somewhat lacking educational properties.
5 mins read
Written by
Life on Our Planet | Official Teaser | Netflix

Released on Netflix on the 25th October, Life on Our Planet consists of eight episodes which take the viewer through the history of life on Earth. The Guardian called this a ‘cinematic epic’ and with Spielberg as Executive Producer, one would expect nothing less. The viewer is taken on a monumental journey through time, from giants of the Earth to the smallest organisms from which life began.

The message is the persistence of life. Like a phoenix from the ashes of armageddon, life will continue- regardless of what the show calls ‘the silent killer:’ carbon dioxide. This is obviously supposed to run true of contemporary climate change, assessing that humanity’s self-destruction will not impact life on Earth as a whole. 

The message is the persistence of life. Like a phoenix from the ashes of armageddon, life will continue- regardless of what the show calls ‘the silent killer:’ carbon dioxide.

The series takes advantage of contemporary advancements in CGI and photography. By tracking the movement of real animals, they create dynamic shots with accurate movements, particularly in reptiles and amphibians. This should be congratulated. However there has been some criticism that it looks like the animals are floating, rather than moving naturally. Viewers loved the visual experience; there is a fascination surrounding uncanny realism which CGI satisfies, to see the recreations beyond skeletons.

Chris Packham’s documentary Earth superiorly provided palaeontological breakthroughs which underpinned the digital recreations of prehistoric animals. Packham’s background in nature programmes and genuine interest revealed a more insightful watch, in comparison to Morgan Freeman’s theatrical script. The BBC’s perpetual success in this genre, including Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough (2022), meant an American Netflix alternative was never going to get good reviews from a cynical British audience.

Packham’s background in nature programmes and genuine interest revealed a more insightful watch, in comparison to Morgan Freeman’s theatrical script.

Considering the mini-series Walking with Dinosaurs, released in 1999, was a breakthrough in scientific discovery and animation, this documentary doesn’t feel realistic or advanced enough to have been created twenty-four years later. Episode two, depicting prehistoric underwater creatures, was the most visually and educationally successful- the explanation of how jellyfish came to be was fascinating. The programme was accessible and entertaining, and with such a celebrated actor narrating it, the viewer is reminded of Morgan Freeman’s 1998 film Deep Impact, adding to the apocalyptic tone.

The series also provided more recent scientific accuracies about prehistoric animals and their interactions, however there were a few times where the serious nature of the documentary was lost because of the CGI. In one moment, as two birds were setting up for combat, they performed this strange mating ritual including synchronically marching back and forward. I couldn’t help but think, how the heck do they know that’s how birds fought over land 2 billion years ago?

The recent oversaturation of prehistoric CGI documentaries has led to inevitable comparison, but viewers seem to want to see the wildlife, and they want to be shown how they are filmed. Life on Our Planet was undeniably an epic watch, the soundtrack drew me in and took us to a world like ours, yet inhabited by monsters. However, audiences may be left asking questions, and might turn to the series’ competitors for the answers.

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