A television series like Frozen Planet is both heaven and hell for a television critic. Heaven because it is a glorious showcase of what the BBC does best, hell simply because it undermines the very role of the critic as there is nothing to criticise.
At a time when the BBC is making cutbacks across the board and some, frankly criminal, decisions regarding content as a result, Frozen Planet is a breath of fresh air, if a rather icy one. There are, unfortunately, few areas left in which the BBC is still world class but if there is one genre they still excel in, it is the natural sciences documentary. So, you could say there is rather a lot of pressure on Frozen Planet to help maintain the beeb’s legendary reputation and luckily it doesn’t disappoint.
This reputation has its benefits for the BBC; their stature allows them to draw in the best nature cinematographers the industry has to offer. The results are jaw-dropping pans of the vast arctic tundra; exotic species battling against Mother Nature shown in ultra-slow motion and multiple camera angles used to piece together the most compelling narratives, all in glorious high definition. The stunning time-lapse sequences are simply unbelievable, so much so in fact that you begin to question whether or not they’re actually real or computer generated.
Excellence lies in every element of Frozen Planet. The music’s accompaniment for example, adds vitality – the proverbial icing on the cake so to speak – perfectly accompanying those scenes designed to thrill as well as it does those designed to make one laugh. And what is particularly wonderful about Frozen Planet is that it does, on occasion, make you laugh. This isn’t usually expected from a documentary series, especially one set within an environment as harsh and unforgiving as the polar regions. Yet Frozen Planet manages to focus on the lighter side of life within the barren landscape. How refreshing it is to see a nature documentary that can deliver on all fronts and not just rely on the backdrop, as awe inspiring as it is, for the highpoints. One of the series highlights in fact, shown in the very first episode, was watching a thieving penguin steal stones from its neighbour’s nest as its fellow penguin and owner of said nest continued to go back and forth in a bid to find the perfect stones.
Ultimately the real joy of Frozen Planet is that the spotlight is firmly on the animals that inhabit this frozen world. All the favourites are there; the polar bears, the penguins and the whales, along with cameos from the lesser known creatures. But it is not possible to mention a BBC nature documentary without applauding the legendary David Attenborough, whose whimsical and imaginative narration never ceases to inspire and move the viewer. However, as wonderful as his words are, the real beauty is in the images caught on camera. Bravo BBC, at least for now you’re still on top of the world.