David Attenborough, in his long, distinguished and remarkably consistent career, has been nothing short of a national treasure. He may apparently dislike the term, but it is hard to not say that about such a great presenter who has contributed significantly to some of the best programmes (of the documentary genre and overall) the BBC has ever aired/produced and with an output where even lesser efforts like 'The Penguin King' are good still.
Like has been said before, picking favourites from a consistently good to masterpiece body of work from a national treasure with a long and distinguished career is very difficult. Is 'Life in the Freezer' among the best and most ground-breaking work Attenborough has ever done? No, but even when Attenborough was not at his very best he and the programmes in question still put most other documentaries to shame.
The first episode "The Bountiful Sea" was outstanding. So is this, containing everything that made the previous episode so good.
First and foremost, "The Ice Retreats" looks amazing. It is gorgeously filmed, done in a completely fluid and natural, sometimes intimate (in a way where one feels closer to the animals) way and one actually has to check as to whether it was made for TV because the production values are so cinematic. The editing is always succinct and smooth and the scenery is stunningly majestic. The music also has a cinematic quality that doesn't overbear what's going on, instead enhancing the impact and sounding beautiful as music in its own right.
Again, like so many Attenborough nature/wildlife documentary series and individual episodes, "The Ice Retreats" fascinates, teaches, moves, entertains and transfixes. In terms of the facts there was a very good mix of the known ones and the unknown, some facts being familiar to us while also dealing with very complex and very much relevant issues with tact. Fans of penguins like me will be in heaven, my heart melted every time they appeared.
Narration by Attenborough helps significantly. He clearly knows his stuff and knows what to say and how to say it. He delivers it with his usual richness, soft-spoken enthusiasm and sincerity, never talking down to the viewer and keeping them riveted and wanting to know more. As hoped, what we're told is detailed, comprehensive and very honest.
Loved the animals as expected, caring for them in the same way that one would a human. Have always adored penguins and "The Ice Retreats", and 'Life in the Freezer' in general does nothing to change that. "The Ice Retreats" may not have quite the same amount of tension and pathos of a few of the other episodes, but it's hardly devoid of that and there are still many beautiful and adorable scenes with the penguins.
Unsurprisingly (seeing as it is one of the consistent strengths of Attenborough's work), the episode doesn't feel like an episodic stringing of scenes, but instead like the best nature documentaries it feels like its own story and journey, with real, complex emotions and conflicts.
In conclusion, every bit as excellent. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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