When the BBC launched its Natural History Unit in 1957 to produce radio and TV programs about wildlife, its wind-up film cameras could only run for 20 seconds at a time. There was no way to schedule multi-destination airplane trips, and once a crew arrived at their remote location, they couldn’t communicate with Bristol for weeks or review their footage.
Now, as the BBC releases its latest blue-chip series, Planet Earth II, cameras are smaller than ever, they can shoot at higher frame rates in lower light, and data storage is essentially unlimited.
But each time a technological development threatens to make their jobs easier, the NHU becomes more ambitious. It’s not enough to show a barn owl hunting a harvest mouse — now they want it from the mouse’s point of view. It’s not enough to get footage of snow leopards, one of the hardest animals on the planet to track down — now they want to spy on them from a foot’s distance with motion-detecting cameras.
The result is that Planet Earth II is the most cinematic wildlife film yet.