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'Our Living World' review: Cate Blanchett’s nature show is a rare ray of hope

On Netflix!!! Watch it! :-)
door Tsenne Kikke - woensdag 12 juni 2024 1:22

This Oscar-winner’s powerful documentary proves how fragile the earth’s ecosystems are. From angry hippos to salmon swimming on tarmac, it is truly valuable television. It is is a four-part docuseries that takes a deeper look at nature than just showing various species living their lives. What the series attempts to do is really show how all living things are interconnected. What one species does in the Arctic, for instance, affects the climate in the rainforest in a very specific way.

'Our Living World' begins with an inspirational quote from Leonardo da Vinci: “Realise that everything connects to everything else.” Soon, this nature series has glowing blue lines running across the screen, and Cate Blanchett on the voiceover, authoritatively announcing that the planet’s species are dependent on each other in ways we cannot immediately see and might not have imagined.

For example: it shows us one animal or plant, then shocks us with how that one helps another. Gradually, however, the show builds this into a powerful lecture on the climate crisis, conservation - and, in particular: the importance of small gestures and how they can have larger effects down the line. In an age when we urgently need to act but the task of maintaining a survivable planet can seem too big for an individual to contemplate, let alone tackle, it’s a valuable lesson.

The first episode of 'Our Living World' is about Nature’s Amazing Network, and we see a rhino making its way through that Nepalese city in order to get to its feeding grounds; of course, the vegetation in those feeding grounds are there because of that network. In the Arctic, a baby reindeer is protected from predators like wolves by its mother and the herd, and the activity of the herd and wolves running makes for an even, reflective snowy surface for the light from the sun which heath is for 85% reflected into the sky. That helps the surface of the ocean freeze, with warmer waters circulating underneath. That flow affects the tropical coral reef, where we see a cuttlefish in an egg protect itself from predators while seeing the world outside its transparent bubble.

The ocean’s flow affects the formation of clouds and storms, with lightning splitting molecules and generating nitrates that replenish nutrients in the soil when it rains. In other examples, a cougar maintains order in the rainforest; without the big cat’s hunting activities, its grazing prey would decimate the vegetation. When it attacks and kills a crocodile, the carcass it leaves behind provides nutrition to the fungi that feed the root systems, and on and on it goes.

In the sea nearby, the water beginning to freeze is part of a system of ocean currents and temperature movements that manifests on the coast of Africa as a storm, leading to nitrate-heavy rain falling and revitalising the dry savannah. In the watering hole that results, a family of hippos is enjoying the water. Another hippo tries to muscle in; the elder male fights him off.

When the rains abate, elephants pick at dry, dead trees, leaving logs on the ground that help to start bushfires, the smoke from which eventually causes phosphorus to nourish the Amazon rainforest, where a brazil nut tree relies on orchids, bees and toothy rodents to flourish.

“He’ll only live for a year,” Blanchett says of a hatching cuttlefish, “so he seems determined to learn as much as he can, as fast as he can.”

The chase between hare and hawk is one of those sequences that elite wildlife programmes spend six months trying to capture...

Those hares, though, sprinting around the forest between the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, are the harbinger of the closing two episodes’ dread warning. They moult and turn white in winter, which is increasingly a bad idea since nowadays there’s not as much snow as there once was: their technique of standing still and blending in with the bright whiteness when a bird of prey flies overhead is no longer a goer. The hawks will get them all soon enough...

Having made sure we understand the butterfly effect of any interference in ancient cyclical processes, 'Our Living World' is ready to appeal for help. We have been shown how nature can adapt and survive: spawning salmon, finding that their journey upstream has had a road built across it with SUVs speeding through the shallow water, have resolved to take their chances and swim across the tarmac.

If they can do that, we can get involved in rewilding, in conservational initiatives, in the little things to which anyone can contribute. The enormity of the climate emergency and the scale of the crime we’ve committed is left for other programmes to measure: here instead is a dappled ray of hope, and a reminder that we’re all in this together.

In short: this documentary is exceptional in its field, offering more than just breathtaking visuals of nature; it educates while it entertains.

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