'Our Planet' Review: The Fragility of Nature

Netflix's new documentary series is a rallying cry for the whimpering mortality of nature.


Awe-inspiring is the first word that comes to mind when watching Netflix‘s nature-documentary series Our Planet. It is sweeping and majestic. The visuals are as all-consuming as the breadth of the show’s coverage. From pollinating bees to mysterious ocean depths, Our Planet captures the utter beauty of Earth in an elegy to nature that is as much an ode to all that is natural as it is a warning cry.

Filmed over the span of four years with more 600 crew members in 50 countries, this eight-part series wields its Netflix budget like a sledgehammer. Our Planet is arresting — overwhelming, even.  Over the course of the series, viewers are transported from their living room to the most beautiful and vibrant locales that the Earth has to offer, from bustling ecosystems in coastal seas to dense otherworldy jungles. David Attenborough narrates the series with his usual flair and gusto. His voice is transfixing, much like the footage he talks over.

Comparisons to BBC’s Planet Earth series are inevitable — especially with the addition of Attenborough — but the similarities between Planet Earth and Our Planet are what make Our Planet surprisingly subversive. Where Planet Earth is nature television for the heart, Our Planet is programming for the heart and the mind. It does not shy away from the irreparable effects of climate change and the continuing ecological ruin that humankind is doing to the natural world. Earth’s natural beauty is increasingly finite and Our Planet begs the viewer to reckon with this. It is confrontational, as it should be. Breathtaking footage of a caribou migration is paired with Attenborough’s serious line delivery of the unshakeable fact that the mass of caribou we are watching is 70% smaller then it was just 20 years ago.

Numerous times throughout Our Planet, Attenborough floors us with shocking facts and damning truths that turn the gorgeousness of the series into a sort of melancholic sadness that cannot be shaken off so easily. Yet, the beauty on display is cause enough for change. We must save what is left of the natural world. Coastal seas are being ravaged by climate change and the effects of capitalism and industrial commerce, but 90 percent of marine creatures call coast waters their home. There is no beating around the bush here, and Attenborough demands we not look away and keep on going on as if everything is okay. Change is necessary and ever-so-prescient. “The stability of nature can no longer be granted,” Attenborough says with blunt seriousness and a waver in his voice.

Our Planet turns David Attenborough into an ecological warrior, and who could be a better fit for the role? His voice is known all over the world thanks to just how much Planet Earth permeated mass-culture, and hearing him rally for the saving of the fragile natural world is both inspiring and saddening. But his voice alone is not a means for change. Our Planet features some truly horrific scenes of how humankind affects nature. A time-lapse segment of the deforestation of a Borneo jungle will leave you shaking with anger — the fangs of capitalism care not where they bite, all that matters is that their bite turns a profit.

The fact that the series was shot and produced over the span of four years further exemplifies the causal effects of climate change and mankind on the natural world. Forest locations from earlier episodes are revisited later in the series and, to put it quite bluntly, the forests are no longer there. All that remains is footage, a time-capsule for what once was.

Our Planet is important and relevant on multiple levels, but what the show does best is capture nature for what it is, and how it exists right now in this current moment. It is already a document of what has been lost, and three-or-four years from now, if things do not change, it will continue to be a time capsule for what is being destroyed, and what will eventually be brought to ruin.

This is nature television for the concerned viewer. It swaps beauty and awe for social awareness and concern. Through the footage and Attenborough’s narration, Our Planet becomes a rallying cry for the whimpering mortality of nature, and it stands as both a love-letter to nature and a pointedly blunt criticism of the machinations of humankind that has brought the entire natural world to its knees.

(Student/Freelance Writer)

Cole Henry is a media theory and philosophy student at Georgia State University, as well as a freelance writer and editor. He is quite interested in every aspect of documentary cinema, and can usually be found reading, writing, running, adding items to his Criterion Collection shopping cart, and eating tacos.