Egener: ‘Planet Earth II’ ‘Cities’ episode shows human impact the way nature docs never have
The sky is clear, and an alpha male langur monkey sits relaxed in the shade on a beige, residential rooftop in Jodhpur, India among several female langurs. But the day doesn’t remain peaceful for this particular alpha langur, as a gang of hostile male langurs approaches.
The alpha langur leaps into action to defend his territory. The langurs launch themselves across gaps between buildings several meters wide. They weave into narrow crevasses, propel past canopies of electric wires and navigate with gravity-defying maneuvers through the urban landscape.The alpha successfully chases away the other males but returns home to the females with a bloody gash across his right leg.
These langurs thrive in the temple gardens of Jodhpur because the people associate them with the Hindu god Hanuman. Their food is literally handed to them by the basketful.
This scene is the first of many like it in the episode “Cities” of the sequel BBC nature documentary series, “Planet Earth II,” that was released in 2016. The series has recently been made available on Netflix in the U.S. The final episode depicts the most notable difference from the original 2006 series. It’s an episode devoted entirely to showing how animals live in human-dominated areas.
The new series is arranged the same way as the first. Fifty-minute individual episodes focus primarily on animal life in specific ecosystems: islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands and cities. “Cities” is the sixth and final episode, as if to remind viewers that all the natural wonders they just saw shot in spectacular Ultra HD footage during the five previous episodes are under the expanding threats of human development and climate change.
“In this decade, the urban environment is expected to grow by 30 percent,” legendary nature documentary filmmaker David Attenborough said in the episode’s opening seconds. “It may appear hostile to animal life, but for the bold, this is a world of surprising opportunity.”
Nature documentaries are known for inaccurately displaying plants and animals as separate from human life. The films often suggest that ecosystems are untouched, pristine, and worst of all, undisturbed. “Planet Earth II” tries to correct that false narrative. Humans now live in what some scientists call the “Anthropocene,” an entire geologic epoch characterized by human influence in every square centimeter of the globe.
In a deviation from typical nature documentaries, narration scattered throughout “Planet Earth II” features pointed commentary about how climate changes are affecting ecosystems like never before. “Changes in the climate mean temperatures here are rising more than the global average and, as deserts heat up, they are also expanding,” Attenborough said in the “Deserts” episode. “Every year, a further 50,000 square miles of grass and farmland are turning into barren stretches of dust and rock.”
The “Cities” episode features a select few species that benefit from opportunities such as food that humans create in urban environments. If there weren’t periodic allusions to the pervasiveness of human impact on the natural world throughout the series, it would be entirely misguided to have the celebratory tone that occurs at times in the “Cities” episode.
The series demonstrates that nature documentaries are becoming more based on the reality. Humans have never harmed plants and animals more, but a greater scientific understanding of those organisms can make people better equipped to improve those unending relationships.
Watch the trailer for “Planet Earth II” below:
Follow Max on Twitter at @maxegener.
Would you like to increase opportunities for women and people of color in journalism? Now is your chance to support the Emerald’s program by helping us send reporter Ryan Nguyen and Emily Goodykoontz to the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference this June!