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Yet another knockout nature doc from BBC Earth - even with a couple of missteps, it's a staggering high-def achievement....
BBC / 300 Minutes / 2012 / Unrated / Street Date: April 17, 2012
Right to the point: Frozen Planet deserves a place next to Planet Earth and Life as yet another exceptional piece of nature documentary filmmaking. One would think that after a while we'd have seen all the crazy species of rare animals that the world has to offer, but even if we've experienced the migration of penguins or the hibernation of polar bears before, Frozen Planet makes them seem brand new all over again: When the documentary really gets going, the results are robust documentary thrills.
Taking us through the seasons of the year, this David Attenborough-narrated doc series focuses on both the preparation, duration, and aftermath of a killer winter season, on how animals both celebrate its part in the scheme of things and steel themselves against the perils and difficulties it brings. Yes, there are fuzzy, fuzzy animals here, but baby chicks get eaten by Arctic Foxes. Tiny little seals become finger food for enormous Orcas. Nature has a way of progressing as it will, and in Frozen Planet, no animal is divorced from this cyclic paradigm.
But I have to offer a quick asterisk to Frozen Planet's tale - it's absolutely sitting proudly on my shelf, but there are certain reservations I have about it that would pop it toward the bottom of the heap of recent BBC Nature classics. The reason Human Planet doesn't belong among the hallowed halls of nature doc brilliance, for my money, is that the way these series are set up, it's the majesty of rare animals and their complete and total singularity in nature that make their introductions (at least to those of us who'd never seen them before) so indelible - when homo sapiens shows up, the shows' profundity is somehow less intriguing. Why would I want to see dudes and dudettes doing stuff when I could watch a polar bear teach her cubs how to swim for the first time?
In any case, the last two installments of Frozen Planet - while, to be sure, well-told and informative - are heavy on the human element, and they pale in comparison to the sensational programming that precedes it. It should come as little surprise that the filmmakers here would want to spend at least a little time dissecting exactly what is happening to our polar regions in the early 21st century, but the fact of the matter is that the first two discs of Frozen Planet contains episodes that you'll watch again and again through the years, where the series' final one-two punch you might not come back to. It's a shame that Frozen Planet doesn't end as strongly as it starts, but even with this taken into consideration, it's a helluva thing, a monolithic of modern entertainment. More, please!