Filmed Before The Fires, 'Seven Worlds' Shows Off Australia's Amazing Wildlife

Jan 16, 2020
Originally published on January 21, 2020 10:16 am

Seven Worlds, One Planet, BBC America's new big-budget, big-scope documentary series, devotes one episode to each of Earth's continents — beginning with an episode devoted to Australia.

Filmed before that continent's still-ongoing wildfire outbreak, the entire "Australia" episode has even more resonance now. Sir David Attenborough, the narrator, has been presiding over these wonderful nature films for close to 70 years, and his opening words in the "Australia" program are so on-point it's spooky: "This is a land of survivors," he says.

It has to be. Recent news reports from Australia say that the wildfires have swept across as many as 27 million acres of land and killed up to a billion animals. A billion. On Kangaroo Island alone, 25,000 koalas have been killed — and their habitat, especially the lush eucalyptus trees, gone.

Koalas and kangaroos figure prominently in this "Australia" episode. So do Tasmanian devils and wild budgies, dingoes and jumping spiders, and so much more.

The filmmakers capture these creatures doing amazing things, with state-of-the-art technology that makes sure to remember the "art" part. Some of the behaviors caught on tape are very rare sights — as are some of the animals. At episode's end, in another prescient piece of narration, Attenborough points that the very survival of the animals in Australia depends on us.

Every installment of Seven Worlds, One Planet ends with a behind-the-scenes featurette showing how the filmmakers captured the footage they did. It's a delicious dessert, but the episodes themselves are the true treat.

Each weekly episode premieres on BBC America, but also on AMC, IFC and Sundance TV. Wherever you watch them, watch and record them all. The narration is so clear and concise — and Attenborough such an inviting guide — that Seven Worlds, One Planet is just as thrilling for younger viewers as for adults. Every episode includes sequences that will make your jaw drop — and the variety of subjects, which in these seven episodes range from polar bears to fireflies, is astounding. As a work of television, this nature series is astounding, too.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Saturday night, BBC America presents the premiere episode of its newest big-budget, big-scope documentary nature series "Seven Worlds, One Planet." Each of the series' seven episodes, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, explores the land and creatures of a different continent. But as a reaction to the still-ongoing Australian wildfires, the series now begins with the episode devoted to Australia. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEVEN WORLDS, ONE PLANET")

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Australia - an island continent cast adrift during the time of the dinosaurs.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: This entire Australia episode, filmed before that continent's wildfire outbreak, has even more resonance now. Sir David Attenborough, the narrator, has been presiding over these wonderful nature films for close to 70 years, and his opening words in the Australia program are so on point it's spooky.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEVEN WORLDS, ONE PLANET")

ATTENBOROUGH: Isolated from the rest of life on land for millions of years, the animals cast away here are today like none elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

ATTENBOROUGH: This is a land of survivors.

BIANCULLI: It has to be. Recent news reports from Australia say that the wildfires have swept across 27 million acres of land and killed a billion animals - a billion. On Kangaroo Island alone, 25,000 koala bears have been killed, and their habitat, especially the lush eucalyptus trees, gone. Koalas and kangaroos figure prominently in this Australia episode of "Seven Worlds, One Planet" - so do Tasmanian devils and wild budgies, dingoes and jumping spiders and so much more. The filmmakers capture these creatures doing amazing things with state-of-the-art technology that makes sure to remember the art part. This series is beautiful.

Some of the behaviors captured are very rare sights, so are some of the animals, which Attenborough, in another prescient piece of narration, points out at episode's end.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEVEN WORLDS, ONE PLANET")

ATTENBOROUGH: Mammals in Australia are disappearing faster than anywhere else on Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ATTENBOROUGH: They succeeded in adapting to life as their home changed around them. But now they face their greatest challenge - the change to their world brought by humanity. Which of its unique species will survive the coming decades now depends on us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: Each installment of "Seven Worlds, One Planet" ends with a behind-the-scenes featurette showing how the filmmakers captured the footage they did. It's a delicious dessert, but the episodes themselves are the true treat. Each weekly episode premieres on Saturday not only on BBC America, but also on AMC, IFC and SundanceTV. Wherever you watch them, watch and record them all. The narration is so clear and concise and Attenborough is such an inviting guide that "Seven Worlds, One Planet" is just as thrilling for younger viewers as for adults.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEVEN WORLDS, ONE PLANET")

ATTENBOROUGH: Off the south coast lies, by far, the biggest of them - Tasmania.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ATTENBOROUGH: And that has its own special marsupial, one that seldom appears until after dark - the Tasmanian devil.

ATTENBOROUGH: Every episode includes sequences that will make your jaw drop. And the subjects in these seven episodes range from polar bears to fireflies. The variety is astounding. And as a work of television, this nature series is astounding, too.

GROSS: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching and a professor of television history at Rowan University. He reviewed the BBC nature series "Seven Worlds, One Planet." It begins Saturday.

If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed - like this week's interviews with Martin Scorsese, whose new film "The Irishman" is nominated for 10 Oscars; with journalist David Zucchino, whose book "Wilmington's Lie" traces the rise of white supremacy in a southern city; or with reporters Joe Palazzolo and Michael Rothfeld, whose new book expands on their Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of hush money payments made on behalf of Donald Trump to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels - check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAKE MASON TRIO'S "LEMON TWIST")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Mooj Zadie, Seth Kelley and Thea Chaloner. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAKE MASON TRIO'S "LEMON TWIST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.