Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

Like everyone else I loved Planet Earth (BBC1, Sunday), which came to only a temporary end this week. The images are fabulous. If the global-warming doomsayers are right, and if in 50 years' time what's left of us are living on mountain tops, chewing grey squirrels and watching DVDs powered by lichen, it will be a perfect way of remembering what we have lost. Or rather what we never quite managed to catch in the first place. Where, for example, have you been able to see thermal imaging of kangaroos slobbering on themselves to keep cool? It could be number 983 on our cable box: the Kangaroo Saliva Channel, 7.00 to 8.00: Great Expectorations.

As computer-generated images become more powerful and more convincing, real life has to struggle to keep up. So we have multicoloured lizards leaping to catch blackfly in South Africa, herds of wild Bactrian camels racing across the snow, and an ibex fight which, if it were made by Sony, might attract a 15 certificate.

It was, as I say, wonderful. But disconnected, too, linked by only the loosest of threads. This week the theme was that animals living in deserts have a problem finding water. But that's enough biology -- let's look at some more gorgeous images.

Part of me yearned to see a cow, or a cat, something that related to our lives, to the fauna we know. An example: if you go to the aquarium under the Palm House in Kew, you'll see a tank full of impossibly beautiful tropical fish watched by children saying, 'Look, there's Nemo!'-- and in the next tank, mackerel and Dover sole, a fishmonger's slab brought to life. The familiar and the edible make the fabulous more real, more convincing.

It was a shame, if inevitable, that David Attenborough could do only the voiceover. The tones were as hushed and intimate as they were in decades past when he really was a few feet from the sleeping lions. There is no way someone of his age could be expected to spend two months in a Land Rover in the Gobi desert in the uncertain hope of finding camels. But there is a loss of immediacy, of that sense that we were following Attenborough's personal safari. The images are finer by far, but we have lost some contact with the world we knew.

Cows cropped up in The Insurgency (BBC2, Sunday). The BBC, I fear, rather overhyped this documentary, implying that the brave reporters had gone blindfold deep into the heart of al-Qa'eda, whereas most of their footage had been filmed elsewhere, or bought in. …

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