How factual, natural history content is becoming drama content

Updated: Feb 24, 2020 4:33 PM

The scene could rival any dramatised James Bond movie chase, expect for the fact that it’s not dramatised and it’s not a movie; it’s a scene from Planet Earth II, produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. The scene could rival any dramatised James Bond movie chase, expect for the fact that it’s not dramatised and it’s not a movie; it’s a scene from Planet Earth II, produced by the BBC Natural History Unit.

By Stanley Fernandes

Once upon a time in our not-so-distant past a hatchling marine iguana sits on Fernandina Island, in one of the uninhabited volcanic Galápagos Islands. A racer snake slithers up from behind him. What follows next is a scene that captures the beauty-in-the-beast that is wildlife. The music swells as the chase begins. The iguana is literally running for his life with a den of snakes tailing him. It’s catch-me-if-you-can with narrow escapes. But he survives. The scene could rival any dramatised James Bond movie chase, expect for the fact that it’s not dramatised and it’s not a movie; it’s a scene from Planet Earth II, produced by the BBC Natural History Unit.

This went viral globally, not because we have a special affinity towards watching iguanas and snakes chase each other, but because of the narrative of film. It tells a story by heightening our emotions of exploration, fear, death, victory, and overcoming it all. It is this tempestuous excitement and chase that is captured in BBC’s factual programming. After all, we love a good story that ends positively.

‘Hidden Kingdoms’ captures the world from an animal’s lens. Simply put it is Disney – Pixar’s ‘A Bugs Life’ meets BBC’s wildlife documentary skills. Spectacularly achieved by combining wildlife filming, with feature film techniques, using special effects and even staged settings to capture the dramatised life of the opponent and the protagonist. ‘Hidden Kingdoms’ is a fascinating series that observes and narrates stories of animals learning to grow up fast through adversities and their travails surviving. It’s an insight into the epic struggles of the little living wonders against the backdrop of their gigantic enemies and is packed with drama.

Millions of years ago incredible forces ripped apart the Earth’s crust creating continents – each with its own distinct climate, diverse terrain and unique animal life. That’s ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ as seen on Sony BBC Earth. Filmmakers curate and take us on a journey about love, life and loss and everything it takes in the animal kingdom to survive under the harshest environments, or flourish in the best of conditions. You are driven on a crescendo of emotional cliff-hangers that anthropomorphise animals on a Darwinian journey of evolution.

The series also takes a poignant look at how our natural environment is under threat due to deforestation and human development. Life for a few species may cease to continue as Earth is running out of habitation space for its wildlife. As historian Yuval Noah Harari recapitulates Darwin, the theory of evolution rests on the principle of the Survival of the Fittest – One can then only wonder what’s next?

‘Spy in the Wild’ is a comedy of errors. Spy cameras, in robotic look-alikes, navigate around animals recording them in their primal, unhindered and sometimes whimsical best, bringing us fascinating intimate footage with deep scientific insights. It’s unobtrusive wildlife filmmaking at its creative best capturing the real. This series takes you on a heart-warming ride exploring animal emotions; from flirting polar bears, lemurs getting intoxicated on the secretions of millipedes, animals misbehaving, to finding a sense of justice. These are stories about love, friendship, intelligence and misbehaviour exploring not just the animalistic behaviour but linking them to emotions and subjective experiences.

Since the beginning of time man has found himself in a crucible of power struggles to protect his reign. Is it any different in the animal kingdom? ‘Dynasties’ is one such show of power struggle and treachery. The film narrates the dynastic struggles of five iconic animals, the Chimpanzee, the Emperor Penguin, the Painted Wolf , the Lion and the Tiger. If you’re expecting to find a clinical approach to wildlife documentaries take a step back. This series will take you on an adrenalin-fuelled and often emotional journey of power and politics that could rival any human story; however it captures the power and glory in the animal kingdom.

All these iconic programmes can be seen exclusively on Sony BBC Earth. Our need for the dramatic began a long time ago – the moment the Big Bang brought mass and matter together, the moment man evolved on earth, the moment we realised we could hunt and gather and grow and most importantly, think. Our need to connect with the unbridled world lies at the very core of our DNA, sparking electrons in our bodies to remind us that there is a part of us out there. Wildlife documentaries and studying animal behaviour, which BBC Studios does so brilliantly, has always revealed a lot about our own lives.

At the end of the day, ‘real life’ is always outrageously better than fiction.

The author is vice president, distribution, South Asia, BBC Studios

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