Show: Frozen Planet
Airtime: Sun., 8 pm on Discovery
Rating: TV-PG, Ok for Ages: 7+
Genre: Nature, Documentary
Cast: Narrated by Alec Baldwin
Parents should know: Frozen Planet doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of life and death in the polar regions. It shows animals killing and being killed, freezing, starving, and battling over territory and mating rights. Mating habits are discussed, and scenes of gentle affection are shown, as well as the act itself (though nothing graphic).
Review: With the hundreds of nature documentaries that have aired over the years, you start thinking there must be nothing left for us to see on this big blue planet. But that’s just silly. This year alone, we’ve had James Cameron venturing to the deepest part of the ocean in a torpedo-shaped submarine and shows like Frozen Planet airing on the Discovery Channel.
The third nature series from the team behind Planet Earth and Life, Frozen Planet is a project four years in the making, a gorgeous documentary narrated by Alec Baldwin that shines a spotlight on the earth’s polar regions. Killer whales, Arctic wolves, polar bears, Weddell seals, and penguins of every ilk are just a few of the hardy creatures who reside in these extreme conditions.
But things have come a long way since the 1960s when I used to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with my family. And by the way, Marlin Perkins died in 1986, but fellow adventurers Jim Fowler and Peter Gros are still making appearances across the country touting awareness of environmental issues. Also, Wild Kingdom enjoyed a resurgence in 2002, when all-new episodes began airing on Animal Planet with narrators Simon Barritt and Jason Hildebrandt.
To say that Frozen Planet takes viewers on a sweeping tour of the North and South Poles, highlighting the inhabitants’ struggles to survive the harsh elements of the environment, would be accurate. But it’s so much more than that. We’re totally hooked on Frozen Planet in this house, including the two teenagers. When’s the last time everyone in your house crowded around the TV to watch a nature show? It happens here every Sunday night.
It’s partly because Frozen Planet is super interesting and entertaining. It’s a family drama, a romantic comedy, a crime-thriller, an action-adventure, and a horror movie all wrapped into one. Discovery excels at walking the fine line between Disney-fying the animals (giving them human emotions) and preserving their creature-ific awesomeness. We’ve got adorable crime-sprees as resourceful penguins steal their neighbors’ nest-building materials, Orca whales working together to create giant waves that wash unsuspecting seals off ice floes, cute polar bear cubs getting their first swimming lesson, and musk oxen ramming full-force into each other to establish dominance. The Three Stooges got nothing on these animals.
The other element that makes Frozen Planet must-see TV is the amazing film crews. Clearly, I am missing the chip that would compel me to endure bitter winds of 148 mph, bone-chilling temperatures of -58oF, months of endless squawking by thousands of Adelie penguins, and being stalked by hungry polar bears. But I’m really glad someone is so inclined, because the result is a show like Frozen Planet.
Filming methods have come a long way since Wild Kingdom, too, employing recent developments in high-speed photography, time-lapse videography, and digital storage capacity. Featured on the Frozen Planet website are some great making-of videos, from two guys living for four months in a 12-square-foot shed on the “penguin superhighway” to the deadly brinicle, a.k.a. the “icy finger of death.”
Frozen Planet is family friendly and educational. These new stars of the small screen not only captivate viewers of all ages, they inspire us to ponder environmental issues like climate change. There’s irony in the fact that while technology keeps our kids glued to their Wii games and Xboxes, it also brings us ground-breaking documentaries like Frozen Planet. It’s reality TV at its very best.
Frozen Planet is nearing the end of its first-run on the Discovery Channel, but look for replays and the release of the series on DVD and blu-ray. The UK version with narrator David Attenborough is already available, and be sure to check out Planet Earth and Life, as well.