Mike Gunton might not be the household name David Attenborough is but if there is to be a third series of Planet Earth, Gunton is likely the person who will sign off on it — just as Alastair Fothergill, a former director of the BBC’s Natural HIstory Unit, signed off on the original Planet Earth in 2003.
Gunton, the Natural History Unit’s present-day creative director and a co-producer of Planet Earth II, told UK media last December that while they would be crazy to rule out a third series, the decision is not as easy as, say, greenlightinga new sitcom or shoot-‘em-up police procedural.
Planet Earth II was timed to coincide with the original Planet Earth’s 10th anniversary, but as Gunton conceded, it was five years in the making.
If there is to be a Planet Earth III, in other words, the decision will need to be made soon. Even with new camera technology that would’ve proved impossible in 2006, filming wild animals in their natural habitat and — more importantly, from the BBC’s point of view — capturing behaviour never seen on camera before, takes time.
Planet Earth II makes its North American debut on Feb. 18, after a successful run in the UK.
ildlife documentaries are a dime a dozen; the whole point of Planet Earth is that it be seen to be unique, something special, to stand out from the crowd.
Few wildlife programs come under such scrutiny, from casual viewers aksing themselves, ‘How did they do that?’ to dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists and animal-rights campaigners keen to spot any potential abuses and audience manipulation.
Making Planet Earth II wasn’t easy, no matter how spiffy new camera technology has become. As North American audiences prepare to see what all the fuss is about, here are half-a-dozen gee-whiz facts about the making of a documentary series some are calling the finest of its kind ever made.
1. David Attenborough doesn’t venture to far-flung locations that much anymore — he’s 90, after all — but he’s not just a mouthpiece. He phoned field producers on a regular basis throughout filming and insisted they prove his narration to be accurate, while also telling a good story.
2. Planet Earth II employed 42 camera operators, and is the first series BBC produced in ultra high-definition 4K. Filming crews had to lug 30 to 40 cases of equipment halfway around the world, but were allowed just one personal bag each.
3. Shades of Steve Irwin: During the filming of the episode “Islands,” one crew member was stung by a stingray. The team was stranded two hours from the mainland and sorequired on-site medical attention before getting the crew member to safety. On the episode “Mountains,” another crew member narrowly avoided falling into a rock crevasse while filming in the Himalayas.
4. Misadventure dogged the “Islands” team from the outset. Returning to camp after one shoot, the crew found a boa constrictor eating their supply of eggs.
5. The “Islands” episode alone was three and a half years in the making; it required 12 separate location shoots, which ranged from two to six weeks at a time. Planning and preparation alone took a full year, before a single camera was powered up.
6. Although crews filming in the tropics were bitten by mosquitoes by day and centipedes by night, they were restricted from using insect repellent as animals might smell it and avoid the camera positions. One producer of the “Islands” episode lived in the same clothes for two weeks, despite being pooped on by one penguin and vomited on by another.
7. The new series’ signature theme was composed by noted film composer Hans Zimmer. That fact is well known. Less well known is that the Icelandic alt-rock band Sigur Ros recorded a new version of their single Hoppipolla, which was first used in the original Planet Earth. It took some doing but after rummaging through their old recordings, Sigur Ros managed to find the original track stems and crafted a new version for Planet Earth II.
8. In all, Planet Earth II took six years to film. The trap cameras used to capture rare footage of snow leopards in the wild in the Himalayas were set up for a year before they achieved the desired result. The lions-vs.-buffalo sequence in the episode “Grasslands” took three months to achieve.
Attaining a legal permit for the peregrine falcon sequence in New York City, for the final episode “Cities,” alone took nine months.
9. The widely seen — and much talked-about — iguana-vs.-snakes sequence, which took two weeks of sunrise-to-sunset monitoring of a tropical beach, has clocked more than seven million views on YouTube.
10. Planet Earth II filmed in 40 countries, and required 117 separate filming expeditions. In all, the production recorded 400 terabytes of material, enough to fill 82,000 DVDs. Now you know.