Movie Reviews

David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet - Review

Sir David Attenborough releases his poignant and moving "witness statement" on our planet's future, and it's impossible not to take notice.

OCTOBER 4th, 2020


Director: Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes, Keith Scholey | Cert: PG | Runtime: 1h 54m

© Netflix


here is just something magic about him - an informative, knowledgeable and honest attitude to the occurrences within our natural world. Yet, unlike so many of his contemporaries, he punctuates audiences with warmth, calmness and an emotive optimism for the future of our planet – he is Sir David Attenborough, and after watching his latest documentary – my goodness are we lucky to have him.

A Life On Our Planet is described as Sir David’s “witness statement”, his “vision of the future”, and at the age of 93, he more than most, has seen the changes and impact of pollution and climate change on our planet. The documentary brings his experiences to the screen, demonstrating the extensive wealth of knowledge Sir David has attained throughout his 70-year career. Whether it be his first program in the 1950s, sailing across the ocean and travelling through the wilderness, or his most recent adventure for Netflix’s Our Planet, A Life On Our Planet looks at the life of a man who has seen the accelerating depletion of our natural world.

The Trailer for David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet - © Netflix

The documentary looks to tell the facts, yet no one on Earth tells them quite like Sir David Attenborough. With that iconic voice soothingly narrating on top of spectacular images of the Serengeti or the vast oceans, it is one which when speaks, you can’t help but listen. In pulling back the curtain, the acclaimed broadcaster paints a brutal and honest composition of humanity’s impact on the Earth.

Throughout the film we are reminded of the eradication of the planet’s biodiversity. In 1937 – when Sir David was a child – the world’s population was 2.3 billion and there was 66% of the remaining wilderness left. Today in 2020, those numbers are far starker – the world’s population now sits at 7.8 billion, and through deforestation, plastic pollution and the disregarding attitude for our natural world, there is only 35% of it left. We are now living in a world where humanity’s carbon emissions have matched the same impact of an erupting volcano over 1 million years, in 200.

Sir David has lived through this decline and seen for himself what can happen when things go wrong. At the beginning of the film, Attenborough is in Chernobyl, the sight of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. There, he reminds us both of the destructive nature of human beings and the healing process of nature. Within the abandoned city he speaks of a unique element of which we rarely hear around the climate change conversation – it isn’t all doom and gloom.

It is this outlook which makes Sir David a unique and beloved activist; it is the foundation of the trusting aura he produces. His optimism for the future is endless, as long as we understand the problems and the actions which need to be taken to solve them.

Sir David visits the Chernobyl site - © Netflix

There are many within the world’s population who look at climate change as a hoax; a creation of some evil corporate conglomerate to gain wealth and power. The constant “doomsday” approach excludes those people from the conversation, and it is felt, with powerful world leaders perpetuating the narrative, it is becoming increasingly harder to punch through. Yet David Attenborough has a solution, one which is working and is evident within A Life On Our Planet – inclusivity.

“If we take care of nature, nature will take care for us,” he says, as the ever-stretching expanse of the Borneo rainforests are illuminated onto the screen. It is a simple message, one which reminds us all of our part to play in this global task, and we all truly have one. “We are completing a journey. 10,000 years ago, as hunters/gatherers, we lived a sustainable life because that was the only option. All these years later, it’s, once again, the only option. We need to rediscover how to be sustainable, to move from how to be apart from nature, to becoming a part of nature once again,” he continues.

Unlike many public figures who speak out on environmental issues, Sir David breaks the expected mould. For him everyone needs a seat at the table, even those who perhaps don’t share his view. Why? If you make climate change exclusive, you then alienate a large section of the world’s populace, meaning a lack of education and therefore the vicious wheel keeps spinning. “Human beings are far more susceptible to positivity than negativity,” claims Sir David. “If we promote positively the need to work with nature, rather than against it, then success is far more guaranteed.”

For a man who has showcased the vast beauty of our world, he knows all too well the power of film and what it can do. He understands that the camera is an important tool and brings the brutal truth into every home. In a particular emotive part of the documentary, Sir David explains how, in the 1970s, whaling was seemingly unstoppable. Yet, for the first time, television audiences experienced the haunting “voices” of Humpback whales and how they learn their “songs” from one another. In showcasing these majestic animals unlike ever before, these “songs” gave the whales a personality – Sir David’s 1970 program humanised them. The result changed the way the world’s population looked at these animals, and the cruelty they were experiencing.

A turtle swims through a coral reef - © Netflix

A Life On Our Planet arguably hopes to have the same impact; it successfully does and it’s needed now more than ever. Almost 3 trillion trees have been felled around the world, coral reefs are dying out – the once vibrant habitats now bleached wastelands. Summer’s sea ice in the arctic has reduced by 40% in 40 years, 70% of the world’s birds are now domestic, with whales, mice and other wild mammals making up only 4% of all life on the planet. “Earth is now ‘our planet’, run by humankind for humankind. There is little left for the living world,” Sir David powerfully surmises.

What becomes apparent throughout the documentary is the emotive undercurrents. Attenborough’s concerns for humanity’s future is real, deep and profound. “In the end, after a lifetime of exploration of the living world, I’m certain of one thing – this is not about saving our planet, it’s about saving ourselves,” he says, before sitting in silence, the emotion evident in the broadcaster’s ocean blue eyes.

Yet he has hope and a solution to ensure that that hope becomes reality. “Rewire the world. Restore the biodiversity,” he declares. “Let’s save our garden of Eden.”

A Life On Our Planet is perhaps Sir David Attenborough’s most personal documentary, and in effect his most poignant. Now aged 93, he won’t be with us forever and it feels natural that his “witness statement” should be heard at this pinnacle time in human history. So, it is apt then that another zenith moment of our historic life on this planet, one which took humanity beyond its heavens when man landed on the moon, inspired Sir David in the way that his documentary will inspire the next generation. “I remember, very well, that first shot. You saw a blue marble – a blue sphere in the blackness and you realised that was the Earth, and in that one shot was the whole of humanity.”

How precious our planet is and our ecosystem on which we all depend. This is the message A Life On Our Planet leaves you with. Nothing can last forever, and no one eloquently pronounces it better than Sir David Attenborough: “Our home is not limitless, there is an edge to our existence. We are on a rediscovery of the fundamental truth; that we are ultimately bound by and reliant upon the finite natural world about us.”

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