Frozen Planet II: Human heartlessness takes starring role in new David Attenborough series

·3-min read

Polar bears, soaring strings and glorious aerial photography can only mean one thing – the second series of Frozen Planet is finally here.

From jousting narwhals to rampaging avalanches, the flagship BBC documentary programmes, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, are designed to inform, educate and entertain us.

More than a decade after the BBC’s original series aired, the follow-up has arrived: Frozen Planet II.

‘Frozen Planet’ is back on our screens after 11 years (BBC)
‘Frozen Planet’ is back on our screens after 11 years (BBC)

The new series is, of course, an extraordinary visual banquet that will make you love, laugh and cry, then panic about the extraordinary amount of death that humans have spread across the Earth.

Then you’ll rejoice at the fact that Sir David is still here to tell us all about it, week after week.

The latest programmes tackle some of the same subjects as the original series, but with an arsenal of new technologies, such as drone cameras and satellite monitoring. Everything glistens with a new, expensive intensity. It’s more immersive, and at times it’s more abstract.

In a state of detailed hyperreality, you, the viewer, are flung from the Arctic sky to find yourself bobbing between ice floes, within touching distance of the steaming snout of a desperate polar bear in pursuit of a seal. The polar bear looks at you, twitches her ears, and swims on.

The second series is also narrated by David Attenborough (BBC)
The second series is also narrated by David Attenborough (BBC)

During a touching romantic scene on an Arctic floe, the camera brings you right up close to the pulsating red veins of the inflated left nostril of a lustful hooded seal. This horrid balloon is being deployed in the name of sexual selection, and represents the seal’s best effort at wooing a potential mate.

Sadly, she’s just not that into him. After being rejected by the object of his affections, his deflating nostril wafts up a perfect, heartbroken vortex of sparkling snowflakes.

While there are lighter moments, the core themes here are death and apathy. The programme unflinchingly shows emperor penguin parents simply walking off one icy afternoon, leaving their chicks to live or die.

In another harrowing scene, an “extremely hungry” grizzly bear exterminates a herd of baby musk oxen while their parents seemingly flee the danger.

Ice sculptures of penguins and polar bears decorate the steps of the Royal Albert Hall as part of the launch of ‘Frozen Planet II’ (PA)
Ice sculptures of penguins and polar bears decorate the steps of the Royal Albert Hall as part of the launch of ‘Frozen Planet II’ (PA)

But the message to viewers isn’t simply that the natural world is brutal. We are only shown these appalling examples to tenderise us before the really heartless villains slide into view. Spoiler alert – it’s us.

Death and apathy are what humans excel at. Everything these animals suffer in the ludicrous climates they inhabit is amplified and worsened by the human-driven climate crisis.

At the heart of Frozen Planet II is an appeal – for us to recognise that we are only just beginning to gain any kind of detailed appreciation of the world around us; and that, while we can document it in high definition, at the exact same moment our own recklessness is causing the wholesale destruction of these wonders.

Emperor penguins leave their chicks to fend for themselves (BBC Studios)
Emperor penguins leave their chicks to fend for themselves (BBC Studios)

“The animals that inhabit our frozen lands and seas need one thing more than any other,” Sir David says, “and that is for the planet to stop warming. It is now up to us to make that happen.”

As things stand, the catastrophically low level of political will to halt global greenhouse gas emissions means that these beautiful films are at risk of becoming the snuff videos of a civilisation documenting the horrific extermination of life at its own hands.

‘Frozen Planet II’ is on BBC One at 8pm on Sunday 11 September