Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Copyright: Netflix

It’s time to hit home some hard truths. I’m not a big fan of David Attenborough. Not because I don’t like him, but because I’ve never watched any of his documentaries. I do care for his work, I find his achievements credible and fascinating, but I’m a busy guy and have no time to watch an eight-hour series on penguins faffing about in the Arctic, or a whale swimming the lengths of the ocean. Maybe I missed the hype train for this beloved relic, and I certainly can’t see myself getting aboard now. My love for British heroes is seemingly reserved for Louis Theroux and Charlie Brooker, and there’s not much room for a third, no matter how David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, the latest Netflix documentary, tries to edge him into my field of view.  

Attenborough ditches the comfortable grandparent retelling stories of the past shtick in favour of a stern Geography supply teacher, scolding the human race for hacking trees down to make car parks and fast-food restaurants. Biodiversity creeps in quite a bit, the reliance wild, amazing creatures have on this way of life is under attack from what Attenborough calls “bad planning and human error”. Preachiness is at the core of this one, and I certainly feel that fans of Attenborough will struggle with the change in pace. They’ll go from looking at cute penguins, fleeing from polar bears as Attenborough’s silky voice narrates their impending doom, to stock footage of whales, plants, and forests as Attenborough helms, potentially, his final documentary.  

There are some undeniably fascinating moments here. Learning of the Holocene and how it led to the cultivation of society and life itself was truly fascinating. We move through the lands of Borneo, their startling rainforest loss and how Attenborough was there to witness it. The documentary does feel rather tunnel-visioned, it talks of issues that the planet is currently facing, but to keep on track with the biography-like approach to the life that witnessed it all, there has to be a link between Attenborough’s first-hand experience of nature and the issues he wishes to highlight.  

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is as much a documentary on Attenborough’s life as it is a warning from a man who has witnessed the complete and utter breakdown of environmental and biodiverse systems. It’s saddening, it made me want to recycle the batteries I throw into the regular waste bin. As we teeter on the edge, the point of no return visible and ever-encroaching, it’s clear to see why so many turn to Attenborough for sage advice. A guiding hand that has seen the world develop, thrive, dominate, and destroy the planet. He’s worried, but hopeful, that the human race can pull together and turn back the clock on this environmental damage. Wishful thinking from the man who walked with dinosaurs, but at least someone is trying to be optimistic this year.