Attenborough: 60 years in the wild

PRODUCERS: Alastair Fothergill, Miles Barton

CAST: Sir David Attenborough

RUNNING TIME: 175 minutes


RATING: ****

In the three-part series, 60 Years in the Wild, presented by Sir David Attenborough, he looks back at his nature documentary career and how technology, science and the world have changed in the 60 years since he first ventured out to find some of the rarest animals on the planet.

The first episode, Life on Camera, deals with how technology has changed the way we, as viewers, saw the natural world around us.

Attenborough started out in the 1950s with Zoo Quest, in which he travelled the world to acquire animals for the London Zoo. At this stage everything was shot on 35mm black-and-white film and he had to fight to take the less cumbersome 16mm film camera on those expeditions.

Listening to Attenborough explains the vivid colours of a chameleon found in Madagascar, while watching the light-grey lizard move along the slightly-darker-than-light-grey branch of a tree makes one realise how lucky some of us are to be exposed to High Definition digital filming.

Watching the progression from black-and-white film to digital is given all the more impact when seeing how it affected underwater filming. Starting with only being able to film 10 minutes at a time with film underwater, to filming on video for 30 minutes, was a major breakthrough and the reason why we have seen footage such as marlin, sharks, seals, dolphins, and even birds feasting on fish without missing a second of the spectacle.

Episode two, Understanding the Natural World, deals with the advances in science and how they have led us to understand more about the world around us.

Since Attenborough set out on his career many scientific breakthroughs have been made. Most notably regarding the structure of DNA.

From the initial mapping out of the human genome in 1953 to revealing comparisons between species, including the genes of single-cell organisms, DNA provides a few hints into the origins of life on this planet.

Filming techniques were also formed from scientific research, such as imprinting.

Imprinting on animals was started from research done by Professor Konrad Lorenz, who, by using geese as a subject, discovered that if he was the first thing they saw when they hatched they would follow him everywhere, even as adults.

Using this technique, film-makers are able to film amazing footage such as geese flying in perfect formation alongside a camera mounted on a boat speeding across a lake.

In the final episode, The Fragile Planet, Attenborough looks at how the human race is trying to save a planet it has exploited. Poaching, deforestation, the foundation of the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace and governmental agreements protecting areas that span international borders are some of the topics he tackles.

An example of how conservation and commercial endeavours can work hand-in-hand is located in three large limestone caves in Borneo.Swifts use these caves to nest, the male swift making the nest out of its saliva, and these nests are the key ingredient of bird’s nest soup. The harvesting of these nests is the sole source of income for a large number of the indigenous people, but is also very detrimental to the species. For this reason it was decided that one cave would remain untouched. Seasonal harvesting was allowed in the second cave, and the last for tourism. This way the economy, the locals and the swifts all benefit.

Attenborough narrates the series with the charm that made him the world-famous presenter he is. Adding quirky stories and insightful anecdotes, he keeps the viewer captivated throughout.

And if one is still not satisfied with all his tales during the series, the extras showcase another hour’s worth from his interviews with Michael Parkinson as well as a few out-takes.

It is a truly absorbing documentary of the way most of us view exotic nature – from the comfort of our own homes.