Imagine gazing at Michelangelo’s David, and someone beside you praises the statue for having carved itself. That’s how I felt watching the BBC’s “Planet Earth II.”
Just over ten years ago, BBC stunned viewers with one of the most spectacular presentations of the natural world ever captured on camera. The term “nature documentary” does not do justice to the original “Planet Earth” series. It’s better described as a reintroduction to the world that we call home in all of its awe-inspiring diversity and beauty.
Well, believe it or not, the BBC has outdone itself with the sequel series, which premiered earlier this year and has just finished its first season. Shot over more than 2,000 days in 40 different locations, “Planet Earth II” revisits what made the original so memorable while infusing what Jordan Passman at Forbes calls a sense of “childlike wonder.”
As before, audiences are taken on another sweeping tour of our planet’s ecosystems, only more intimate, closer-up, and somehow even more real. Thanks to new, remote camera technology shooting at ultra-high definitions and frame-rates, viewers enjoy eye-popping detail, often shown in slow-motion like an instant replay in football.
That’s to say nothing of the stars of the show: bears dancing against trees, iguanas chased by snakes, dolphins swimming through submerged forests, eagles skydiving down mountains, lions battling giraffes, and dozens of tinier, less conspicuous dramas that have seldom ever been filmed. Add in a phenomenal score composed by Hans Zimmer and some of the best sound design in documentary history, and every hair on your body will be giving a standing ovation.
But there is something about “Planet Earth II” that bothered me. All throughout, the writers use language that ascribes agency and forethought to animals and plants. This frog “discovered a way to avoid wasps by becoming transparent,” these hummingbirds have “traded convenience for longer beaks,” this jaguar, sloth, penguin, or bat has “found” a unique solution to the challenges of its environment.
More oddly still, host David Attenborough frequently credits nature itself with a godlike intelligence and intentionality, as if features of animals and plants that make them uniquely suited to their habitats were solutions that nature thought up in her armchair.
There’s almost religious reverence and wonder spilling from every scene, as if the producers themselves know that a greater purpose lies behind the beauty of the things they see—as if they know that all of this living magnificence is more than the result of time, chance, and natural selection, but have no One else to credit.
The first doctrine of Christianity is that God exists and is the Creator of everything else. “In the beginning,” opens Genesis, “God created the heavens and earth.” Throughout Scripture, whether in Psalms, Job, the Sermon on the Mount, or the first chapter of Romans, the inspired writers point to the wonder of creation as much more than a goosebump-inducing experience. It is revelation—a message from the Creator.
Paul teaches that God’s invisible attributes are so clearly evident in creation that all of humanity is “without excuse” before Him. Theologians from Augustine to Aquinas to Calvin have taught that God’s general revelation, distinct from His special revelation in Scripture and in Christ, exists in nature in such abundance and clarity that it is sufficient to render us accountable before Him. In other words, we know there’s a Creator. Anyone who has seen His creation knows it!
As a feast for the senses, I can’t recommend “Planet Earth II” highly enough. But as an articulation of a worldview, it’s strikingly dissonant. In the face of so much majesty and order that cries out in testament to a Designer, modern man offers only empty personification, as if creation created itself.
Despite of all that’s possible because of the BBC’s advanced camera equipment, they’ve still missed the revelation that’s right in front of their eyes.
Further Reading and Information
Planet Earth II: Missing the Maker in the Majesty
As John suggests, when watching the new BBC series “Planet Earth II”, don’t miss the Creator’s message right in front of you. For information on these fascinating nature shows, check out the links below.
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