TV Preview: Attenborough - 60 Years in the Wild

By Nick Grant

More wild gems please, asks Nick Grant

Sir David Attenborough in his new documentary 'Attenborough : 60 Yeara In The Wild'. Photo / Supplied
Sir David Attenborough in his new documentary 'Attenborough : 60 Yeara In The Wild'. Photo / Supplied

Viewers mourning last week's conclusion of Sir David Attenborough's Kingdom of Plants will be heartened its slot has inherited another show from the renowned naturalist.

Attenborough - 60 Years in the Wild is a three-part series that uses the frame of the filmmaker's six-decade career to examine the extraordinary evolution of natural history during that period.

The first episode, Life on Camera (which I have seen) focuses on natural history filmmaking and how it has been affected by technological advances.

Episodes two and three (which I can't wait to watch) are titled Understanding the Natural World and Our Fragile Planet and respectively cover recent scientific breakthroughs which have extended human comprehension of how the natural world works, and how those workings are imperiled by wilful human ignorance.

Attenborough has his share of detractors, copping regular criticism for such perceived shortcomings as using editing to elide the exact unfolding of events, decrying our species' contribution to global warming and general environmental degradation, and not paying enough attention to gay animals (FYI, the third complaint is slightly less ridiculous than the first two).

For my money, though, the man is a bona fide global treasure thanks to his ability to awaken a sense of wonder about the world around us.

This week's instalment of 60 Years in the Wild is the perfect primer for anyone who has managed to miss Attenborough's previous series (perhaps by living under a rock Attenborough didn't get around to overturning to film what dwelt beneath it). It plays like a greatest clips compilation, from Zoo Quest's black and white footage, which required Attenborough to describe creatures' colours to viewers, through to today's eye-popping HD images, such as the staggering underwater sequence from 2009's Nature's Great Events that shows dive-bombing birds competing with sharks and seals for a share of a vast, swirling school of fish.

Although it's no hardship for those already familiar with this material to revisit it, the way the clips have been chosen provides an additional insight into how camera development has regularly reinvented natural history filmmaking, as well as expanded our understanding of animal behaviour.

It wasn't so long ago that making a programme about nocturnal creatures involved shining a torch at them and then filming their rapidly retreating backsides. Now, thanks to infrared cameras, we can unobtrusively observe them from millimetres away.

60 Years in the Wild inevitably has more than a hint of the valedictory about it, but even if it does prove to be Attenborough's final series, there's no good reason it should be the last we see of his work on screen. TV One has established a semi-permanent Attenborough presence by screening three of his series in succession at 8.30pm Tuesdays (the magnificent Africa was the first). Why not continue this pattern by showing his more recent back catalogue in the slot, along with any new work? It'd be a welcome example of natural selection.

Attenborough - 60 Years in the Wild premieres Tuesday, 8.30pm, TV One.

- Herald on Sunday

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