Del and Mladen review ‘A Life on Our Planet’
“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” Starring David Attenborough. Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, Keith Scholey. Rated PG. 83 minutes. Netflix.
The most heartbreaking moment in David Attenborough’s profound “A Life on Our Planet” takes place at about the halfway mark when we see an orangutan clinging to the shredded branch of a tree – one tree – remaining in a field of clear-cut Borneo rain forest. Surrounding this pitiful creature lies destruction – jagged stumps, mangled limbs, the earth scarred by monster bulldozers.
That brief snippet of video perfectly encapsulates the message of Attenborough’s documentary film about the downfall of the natural world and serves as a metaphor for the future of mankind as we greedily attack the systems that make life on Earth possible.
Attenborough has a unique perspective on this tragedy. His role as broadcast journalist and naturalist for the BBC has allowed him to see firsthand the rapid decline in animal species, the fouling of the earth and the collapse of ecosystems. As a result, “A Life on Our Planet” is “my witness statement and my vision for the future,” he says.
The first two thirds of the documentary are devoted to Attenborough’s career as a journalist-naturalist and the chilling litany of ruin and destruction he has witnessed since he began covering the “nature beat” in the 1950s. Then, the plains of Africa were covered with migrating herds of wildebeest and zebras, Antarctica was a deep-freeze of glaciers and penguins, and the oceans of the world were home to thriving coral reefs.
Compare that with today: The great herds of Africa are diminished to a trickle, with some species, like the white rhino, becoming extinct. Glacier coverage around the world has shrunk, contributing to sea level rise and the possible extinction of animals like the emperor penguin. Coral reefs are dying as the oceans heat and become more acidic.
Attenborough tries to describe the relationship that exists between mankind and nature, and how the former must be preserved if latter is to survive, then devotes the remaining third of “A Life on Our Planet” to the steps we must take to save ourselves.
In the end, “We need to learn how to work with nature, not against it,” he says.
The film is a showcase of lush visuals, both beautiful and horrific, the yin and the yang of how beautiful our world once was and could be again, and what it is increasingly becoming.
I expect his “witness statement” will fall on deaf ears.
Forgive my cynicism, but I don’t hold much hope for the years ahead. People are disconnected from nature and cannot understand the gravity of Attenborough’s message. They conflate science with some kind of political philosophy. Any attempt to educate them only hardens their disbelief. Throw in market incentives to maintain the status quo, an unswerving refusal to limit population growth, and a rampant, voracious consumerism stoked by soulless corporate entities and you reach a future that resembles a science fiction novel where masses of uneducated savages are baking in the slums of a dead world, awaiting a final war to finish off the species.
I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope “A Life on Our Planet” creates a groundswell of support for those who are trying to solve the riddles of climate change, population growth and destruction of the natural systems that give us clean water, air to breath and food to eat. I hope to see the weather return to normal, to hear a bobwhite quail calling in the morning, to see moths orbiting the porch light.
In the time it takes you to read this review, 60 average homes’ worth of rain forest will have been cut down. That’s an area roughly the size of your neighborhood, gone forever.
“A Life on Our Planet” gets an A+.
Shit, Del’s correct. By that I mean he correctly assessed the quality and importance of “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” and the documentary’s likely impact on mankind’s environment-ruining behavior, as well as that I hate to admit Del is right about anything.
Attenborough is 93 years old. He walks with a slight hunch and his steps seem tentative, but the sparkle in his eyes, the pleasantness of his voice, and the lucidness of what he observes and says are unchanged. The Old Timer, who narrated such break-through documentaries as “Life on Earth,” “The Living Planet,” and “The Blue Planet,” should be heeded because he knows his stuff. His advice should be taken – reduce poverty to reduce deforestation, destruction of fisheries, obliteration of species; render one-third of the ocean’s littoral off limits to mankind; stopping buying so much crap.
It ain’t gonna happen, of course, as Del notes.
“A Life” makes the argument that mankind will go the way of the wild places it destroys, extinct, unless it starts preserving the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the geosphere. Attenborough’s storytelling is punctuated periodically with a counter that ticks off numbers such as the world population of humans and the percentage of wild places still left from the 1950s to today. Sobering. As the population of people grew, guess what happened to the extent of wild places? I’ll give you a clue. It’s what mathematicians call an inverse relationship.
One striking feature of the documentary might go unnoticed unless you’re paying attention. Attenborough never casts blame for the demise of nature at specific countries or leaders. Bollsanaro in Brazil, the feckless muther-f-er encouraging destruction of the Amazon, is not named. China and brutal, soulless Xi aren’t named for obliterating the country’s rivers. America and beyond-stupid Trump are not named for loosening environment preservation regulations and opening national parks and monuments to “mineral extraction.” Attenborough does use examples of sustainable activity such as agriculture in the Netherlands, if I recall accurately, to make the point mankind can have less impact on the air, land, and water while still enjoying a lofty lifestyle. To Attenborough, the environmental catastrophe facing Earth is caused by “us.” It is “our” problem. The problem can be stemmed only through global action requiring that “we” cooperate with each other.
“A Life” ends where it started, in Pripyat, Ukraine. This “atomgrad” of the former Soviet Union was the place where the people who operated the Chernobyl nuclear power plant lived. When Reactor Number 4 exploded in April 1986, all 50,000 of those people had to be evacuated. The city remains uninhabitable decades later. The radionuclides ejected into the air poisoned some of the world’s most productive land and water, crossing national borders all the way up to parts of North Europe. I assume that Attenborough chose to disregard the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi three-reactor meltdown in Japan because that disaster is still in the early stages of unfolding.
Attenborough warns us that Earth will become Chernobyl writ planetary scale —uninhabitable for mankind — unless Homo sapiens initiates remediation now. The naturalist considers pollution and climate change significant contributing factors to the destruction of the outdoors, but not its root causes. Industrial agriculture, mining, and fishing; wanton consumerism; and human disconnection from land and sea are the culprits. He asserts we have stepped from nature and into a delusion: that the supply of Earth’s resources is infinite and that are always technologic solutions to problems caused by technology.
To illustrate there’s hope, Attenborough moves from talking about the Chernobyl catastrophe by walking through room after room filled with abandoned furniture, books, and toys to the outdoors. Large fauna (e.g., wolves, deer, and rare wild horses), the kinds of animals that end up dead or displaced when mankind moves in, are reclaiming Pripyat and so are flora. Trees are present in what were once courtyards. They compete for height with the desolate and deteriorating multi-story buildings that once housed tens of thousands of humans. It might be that vines growing up the walls of those buildings are helping them stay intact a little be longer. In Pripyat, it’s as though Nature had forgiven mankind and has started the hard task of re-nourishing the air, land, and water.
So, there it is in a visual nutshell. Attenborough shows that given enough time and space, the outdoors, and, as a consequence, mankind can recover.
“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” gets an A+. Watch this documentary and then go plant a tree in your yard, somewhere, anywhere. Seriously.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
I give up.
I’m tired of the evil looks.
I’m tired of the snarky remarks.
I’m tired of the short end of the stick.
So I’m defecting to the other side.
I’m joining the opposition.
I am now pro-development.
Gosh, that feels better. No more underdog. No more David and Goliath. I’m hangin’ with the winners. I love the smell of asphalt in the morning.
But what can I, a lowly columnist, do to further the development of Northwest Florida?
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve decided my role can be that of promotions guy. Rah, rah, sis boom bah, they came, they saw, they put up a parking lot. I’m all that.
Here’s my first effort. Let me know what you think:
“Welcome to the Asphalt Coast – make that the Emerald Coast (old habits are hard to break) – home of the world’s most beautiful beaches – hey you! GET OUT OF THE WATER! It’s bubbling with fecal coliform bacteria! You want a hideous disease to remember your vacation? We have lots of T-shirt shops but not very many hospitals, and we certainly don’t have the health insurance agents to treat a mob of idiot tourists with raging earaches.
“Why not take a relaxing, soothing walk along the beach – whoa, buddy! Not THAT beach. THAT beach is private property! You walk on this PUBLIC beach, all hundred feet of it, with all the other thousands upon thousands of tourists. Just walk in circles and try not to step on anybody’s head.
“And don’t walk so close to the water, dummy! You wanna get run over by a Jet Ski? The insurance on those things is through the roof!
“After your day at the beach, try one of our fine restaurants – are you MAD? Don’t get in your car! You’re not going anywhere! U.S. Highway 98 is a parking lot all summer! Find a spot in the gridlock where three cars are lined up side-by-side, and just leap from one trunk to the next, OK?
“Looking for the nightlight? Feel free to sample our many fine entertainment establishments – well, um, yeah, those are strippers. And yeah, those are underage drinkers. And, er, yes, we do have more bars per capita than Tijuana, Mexico.
“While you’re here, you’ll want to marvel over the wonders of the deep blue sea. Most of them you can find washed up on the beach, or hanging from a hook at a dock next to some lawyer from Birmingham who’s having his picture taken. Try not to let them bite you.
“Also, be sure to tour downtown Fort Walton Beach, where the lovely new medians will beguile you with their Olde Worlde Charme. You may even want to stop and visit the many pool halls, abandoned shopping centers, and car title loan centers. Or just relax and sit back with a police sting operation on crack dealers.
“Please enjoy your stay here at the Emerald Coast, where we go by the motto, Your money or your life.
“And remember: All of this splendor is brought to you by FREE ENTERPRISE, where we’re always looking out for your interests, if there’s a buck in it for us. And if there isn’t, well, then you’re the ones who’d better look out!”
This column was published in the Aug. 4, 1999 Northwest Florida Daily News and is used with permission.
About the author:
Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”
Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.
As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.
Contact Del at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .