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Blue Planet II is another beautiful dive into the oceans. How are its stories constructed?

Blue Planet II is another beautiful dive into the oceans.  How are its stories constructed?
Bottlenose dolphins in South Africa, as seen on Planet Earth II. (Photo by BBC America)

The sequel to 2001’s The Blue Planet comes to the U.S. on Saturday, and Blue Planet II‘s premiere will simulcast at 9 p.m. ET on five networks: BBC America, AMC, IFC, Sundance, and WE tv.

This deep dive into the oceans and their inhabitants has narration by Sir David Attenborough, a score by Hans Zimmer, and the ridiculously stunning cinematography that BBC nature series are known for.

Just watch:

The eight episodes were filmed over four years in 39 countries and in every ocean. Crews on 125 expeditions were under water for 6,000 hours, according to BBC America.

The creatures include a tuskfish, which actually uses coral as a tool to open up clams, and trevally, fish that eat birds by leaping out of the water.

During a press conference at the Television Critics Associations winter press tour, we were shown a clip featuring kobudai, fish that change from female to male—which is common in fish. It was incredible footage and storytelling, following a fish as she became a he and then challenged off the male that used to aggressively own the territory.

But while I trust the science, I wondered about how much of the story of this one fish was true to nature, and how much work is done in editing to turn sea creatures into characters that we care about.

I asked the producers, “is there a point at which you or a line you won’t cross in terms of anthropomorphizing the animals, and laying a story on top of them that maybe wasn’t there to begin with?”

Series producer Mark Brownlow said that while they may edit together footage filmed over several years,

“Everything you see is absolutely true to nature. We may film a story like the giant trevally over a period of three weeks. In fact, we went back every two years to get all the material, and then we have to stitch it all together.

But what’s important is the story we show is a true reflection of what happens in nature. Young fledgling birds have to run the gauntlet of these giant fish. And the fact that we show in the end one escaping is, again, representative of most; the majority of the young birds do make it through eventually.

So, of course, it’s got to be gripping and compelling, but it’s absolutely defined by the science.”

And it certainly is both gripping and compelling, as was the original Blue Planet—which is now on Netflix, and are both Planet Earth and last year’s Planet Earth II, if you need something to watch before the premiere on Saturday.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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