David Attenborough. A Life on Our Planet. Review.

Theatrical trailers for this latest Attenborough project, what he calls a “witness statement” about the doomed future of our natural world thanks to climate change were being pushed before the pandemic. After being delayed for reasons that should be obvious it debuted on Netflix to critical acclaim. This reviewer isn’t here to say those opinions are necessarily wrong. It has the raw film making quality that has become so ubiquitous with Attenborough that it’s almost always taken as read that the cinematography at a minimum will be stunning.
Attenborough is always engaging and very soothing presents both as a narrator and central figure. That said the “witness statement” framing of the narrative being put forward by the documentary is just a thin veil for what is essentially a very well-meaning but ultimately superfluous University lecture. Not necessarily in terms of the content. Climate change, population expansion and things the human race should do to protect its future are all hugely important issues that are always worthy of a platform for discussion. The film was made under the assumption that a figure with Attenborough’s clout on this subject could get his points across effectively to the audience including some who are perhaps less knowledgeable on the issues discussed. Well, this is fine and a good step in terms of giving the firm some potential longevity that will not be the only audience for this film. Attenborough’s broad audience may well watch the film, correctly agree with its thesis and give it acclaim regardless of any new discussion it might bring to the table purely because Attenborough is the person delivering it. The points may be well delivered but Attenborough’s commentary offers nothing you couldn’t get from reading any number of articles about the impact of global warming and unsustainable population growth on our world. This gives the documentary the feeling of an inessential extra in Attenborough’s body of work which was likely the last thing intended by those that assembled the film.
A Life On Our Planet will win acclaim purely due to Attenborough’s inbuilt audience and the high filmmaking standards critics and fans have come to associate with productions that have his name on them. The topics discussed do have huge importance to our planet future but the film offers nothing viewers could not get from any external sources beyond Attenborough’s delivery. it comes across like a well-meaning and correct but inessential lecture. Worth seeking out for Attenborough fans but do not take the critical acclaim for granted.

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