Have always been a fan of David Attenborough. He may apparently dislike the term of national treasure, 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. When it comes to nature documentaries he is my hero and deserves the aforementioned status.
It is really hard picking favourites, let alone a definite favourite, among what Attenborough has done because he has done so many gems, it is the equivalent of trying to choose your favourite ice cream flavour or your favourite operatic role (for examples) and finding you can't pick. 'The Life of Birds' is another one of his masterpieces, in terms of documentaries about birds it's ground-breaking and it's a wonderful documentary in its own right. It has everything that makes so much of his work so wonderful and deserves everything great that has been said about it.
As is evident in this wonderful opening episode "To Fly or Not to Fly?" dealing with primarily flightless birds and how birds took to the skies in the first place. Dinosaurs are mentioned and so are early forms.
First and foremost, "To Fly or Not to Fly?" looks amazing. It is gorgeously filmed, done in a natural and intimate (a great way of connecting even more with the birds), way, never does it feel static. Much of it is remarkably cinematic , making one forget that it is a series. The editing is always succinct and smooth and the scenery is gorgeous. Animation is also brought into the mix, not only does it hold up well it also is used sensibly and never jars.
Music score fits very well, never overly grandiose while never being inappropriate or intrusive. That has been a complaint for some nature documentaries seen as part of my binge, including some of Attenborough's output, but it was not a complaint here.
Again, like the whole of 'The Life of Birds', "To Fly or Not to Fly?" is entertaining, educational and utterly transfixing. In terms of the facts there was a very good mix of the known ones and the unknown, dealt with tact and well-researched and backed up, speculation and too much storytelling are not issues here. Likewise with the different animals themselves. The Ostrich and kiwi were especially interesting, and it was great to see rarely seen ones such as the takahe and near-extinct ones (at the time) like the kakapo, their calling being one of the episode's most striking moments.
Narration by Attenborough helps significantly. He clearly knows his stuff and knows what to say and how to say it. He is very sincere and enthusiastic in an understated way, never does he preach and he keeps one riveted and wanting to know more.
The creatures themselves are great to watch and have a wide range of traits that makes one root for them in the same way they would a human. Yet they didn't come over as too humanised, a good thing. There is a huge amount covered to full impact, there was the potential traps of being over-stuffed and rushed, luckily neither are present here.
"To Fly or Not to Fly?" didn't feel like several scenes strung along together episodically, but instead there was some real emotion and telling a story. All without falling too much into the trap of being over-speculative or compromising facts over telling a story.
Overall, "To Fly or Not to Fly?" was a wonderful episode to yet another Attenborough gem. Is there anything that this man cannot do? 10/10 Bethany Cox
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