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Blue Planet 2: Why so long!?

Blue Planet 2: Why so long!?

Welcome to the first blog from our newest team member, Matt Wheeler, who has join us this week and so we thought it would be good to get his views on some current TV content:

Blue Planet 2 is launched

When you hear the calming voice of Sir David Attenborough from your living room TV it means one of two things, both being as good as each other! With Planet Earth airing last year, it’s time to give the limelight to the BBC documentary Blue Planet 2.

If you fancy a peak here’s the trailer….

Sir David Attenborough returns to narrate while Hans Zimmer who recently did the score for Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster “Dunkirk” also returns to compose the soundtracks for Blue Planet 2.

I was excited to watch Blue Planet 2 when they teased it earlier on this year and the production team certainly did not disappoint. Some standout points so far for me have been where a cutthroat eel gets too close to a deep sea brine lake, and struggles to escape from a fatal trap. Another memorable moment in the series so far is the segment showing giant trevallies hunting unlikely prey by launching themselves out of the water and catching unsuspecting birds mid flight!

Why has it taken so long for the returning series of Blue Planet to appear?

It’s been just under 17 years since Blue Planet was first aired on our TV’s back in 2001. While the original series is amazing in its own right and was received extremely well by audiences around the world (without this kind of response it would have been very unlikely of there being a new series) there is no denying that Blue Planet 2 is set to repeat this format, if not beat it!

This brings to me to a big question I found myself asking when the first trailer for BBC’s Planet Earth 2 was released. Why so long? This is a question which popped up a lot when media outlets were interviewing the BBC production team leading up to the premiere of the first episode. Their simple answers to this question were lack of discovery/exploration, technology, timing and accessibility.

The production team can only document and film new species or spectacles (or otherwise risk being too repetitive of the original series) in the ocean if they know where to find them, or by some miracle, come across them while exploring. The challenge facing the team along with marine biologists, scientists and divers is a huge one.

To put it into perspective, oceans occupy about 70% of the total surface area of the earth and scientists estimate only roughly 5% of the ocean has been explored so far, potentially leaving the BBC plenty of time and room for at least 38 more series!. So aspiring filmmakers… I ask you this: what are you waiting for? That 95% isn’t going to explore itself! Grab your goggles and snorkel and get to it, who knows… perhaps you will shock the world when you discover and share your documentary, showcasing the new species you have discovered which looks suspiciously like seaweed wrapped around a Labrador retriever.

Joking aside, over the last 10 years ocean exploration has become far less of a burden with the constant introduction of new and improved technology such as sonar, which is useful for discovering places of interest along the seabed. As time continues to go by there is no doubt that with the constantly growing and improving arsenal of technology and information available to scientists, ocean exploration will gradually start to take less time while also covering larger areas.

What about the Technology?

This brings me onto the next key point, technology. Without new equipment ranging from the submersibles to the cameras which were designed to cope with the depth they were being used in, it would have never been possible for the production team too film some of the spectacular shots for Blue Planet 2. An example of this would be ‘The Deep’ episode where the team managed to film spectacles such as the deep sea brine lake, and when five Gill sharks were captured fighting over the remains of a sperm whale corpse which had come to rest on the sea bed.

“We built a huge piece of housing which we called the mega-dome which allowed us to slice the sea in half, so you can see above and below at the same time….” says James, a member of the production team. “We also built a tow-cam which can be pulled behind a boat, which allowed us to travel with really fast moving animals like dolphins and tuna.”

What kind of challenges are faced by the video production team?

A few more reasons for delay to the production of Blue Planet 2 were accessibility of the locations the team needed/wanted to film – whether it was because of how remote or isolated the location was, such as the arctic, or because of how protected they were by laws such as the coral reefs. And lastly there is the issue of timing. Timing is the key for any production, but it is essential for a large scale documentary such as Blue Planet 2. Some of the rarest events captured during filming only happen once a year, and only happen for a brief duration, leaving a very small window for the production team to get everything right without error.

A great example of this is from the coral reef episode where the team are trying to capture rare footage in the French Polynesia where once a year tens of thousands of grouper fish gather together to mass spawn, sending their eggs into the current to be taken afar. Capturing the sequence in its entirety, in order to tell the full story of the grouper, would take more than just a year, as the spawning is over in less than an hour; it took three!!

So there you have it, hope you had a good read. Hopefully we’ll get another instalment of Blue Planet 3 in due course, just not in 17 years, I hope!


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