A polar bear, an elephant and a whale are the BBC’s contenders for the next Oscars.
The astonishing wildlife footage that entranced viewers in the groundbreaking BBC television series Planet Earth is to be turned into a film that could spearhead Britain’s Oscar challenge in 2008.
Speaking after an appearance at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Alastair Fothergill, the series’ producer, said that the documentary film would be called Earth and was scheduled for a worldwide cinema release next October.
The film will blend dramatic sequences from the television series with extensive, specially filmed, footage to tell the stories of three central characters: a polar bear, an elephant and a humpback whale. “I think we can imagine that on the big screen this will look extraordinary,” Mr Fothergill said yesterday, after showing the festival audience a preview of the second television series that starts on November 12.
The clip, of a hungry male polar bear doing something very like breaststroke through the Arctic sea ice, was the latest in a long line of television firsts that Planet Earth has notched up — most memorably the exquisite sequence of a snow leopard hunting goats across a sheer cliff face in the western Himalayas in the first series.
Mr Fothergill believes that Earth could eclipse the success of last winter’s surprise hit, March of the Penguins, a French wildlife film that won an Oscar and became the second-biggest grossing feature-length documentary. “March of the Penguins was brilliantly marketed but it was very slow. Because of the variety of images that we have I think Earth will be a much more powerful film,” he said.
Mr Fothergill, who will direct, said that Earth would emphasise the emotional power of its stories, as March of the Penguins did, but will avoid the sentimentality of Morgan Freeman’s narration. “We are trying to do a film that has an epic, global feel to it. But it will also have an intimacy through involving you with individual animals. It’s going be firmly aimed as a family film.”
When the first series of Planet Earth was screened in Britain, in March, it was hailed as the greatest natural history programme made. It is certainly the most ambitious, having cost £8 million and taken four years to put together.
Mr Fothergill told his Cheltenham audience that the crew of 60 cameramen, 40 film assistants and 30 production team members shot for more than 2,000 days in 62 countries.An average audience of 11 million thrilled to the first series’s vivid highdefinition images.
Planet Earth cameramen floated over the rainforest in Madagascar in a customised hot-air balloon, flirted with disaster in a microlight on the Mongolian steppes and employed some of America’s finest climbers to secure a camera track to the world’s tallest tree so that a camera could ride up it and film it in a single shot. Their most influential tool was a military system for stabilising heat-seeking missiles that enabled them to mount a camera on a helicopter and film close-ups from a quarter of a mile above African hunting dogs.
Sir David Attenborough, the series narrator, whose blend of enthusiasm and learned restraint has been synonymous with BBC wildlife programmes for much of the past half century, will not be narrating Earth. “He’s so associated with the television series and we don’t want people to feel that they are just watching the same footage again,” Mr Forthergill said. A “British Hollywood voice”, such as Sean Connery or Ewan McGregor would take the role instead.
Significantly, the film will also offer a retort to the campaigners who criticised the first series for underplaying the impact of climate change. Mr Fothergill explained: “We are quite keen to have a very strong environmental angle.”
Magnus Magnusson, the former presenter of Mastermind, has cancelled his appearance at the Cheltenham festival after being told he has cancer. The BBC said that the broadcaster was undergoing tests and was in “good fettle”.
SHOT IN THE WILD
Life on Earth, the pioneering 1979 natural history programme, included the famous footage of Sir David Attenborough playing with gorillas
Among the spectacular moments in Blue Planet in 2001 was the sight of a killer whale riding the surf to catch a seal cub on the shore
Planet Earth, which was aired earlier this year, showed an elusive female snow leopard prowling in the wilds of Pakistan
The March of the Penguins, a documentary following Emperor penguins to their breeding grounds narrated by Morgan Freeman, became an unlikely cinema blockbuster in 2005.
Another French creation, the film L’Ours (The Bear), which was shot in the wild and had the animals as its stars, won plaudits for its cinematography on its release in 1988
The German director Werner Herzog depicted the life and demise of Timothy Treadwell, an activist who took to the wild in Alaska to live among bears — one of which finally killed him and his girlfriend — in Grizzly Man (2005)