David Attenborough is 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.
There are so many gems from Attenborough. Both 'Planet Earth' series, 'Life', 'The Hunt', 'The Blue Planet', 'Frozen Planet', 'Africa' and 'Madagascar', all amazing and they are just a few examples. 'Life in Cold Blood' may not quite be on the same level as the above and not quite one of Attenborough's crowning achievements, but it is still an exceptionally well done series. It's engaging, hugely informative, extremely well made and evokes joy, tears and chills in equal measure. Another thing that it achieves wonderfully is clearing up many misconceptions about reptiles and amphibians, allowing the viewer to learn so much more about them, and anybody indifferent to them beforehand (like me) are likely to find themselves appreciating them much more.
"Sophisticated Serpents" lives up to the word sophisticated, as does the behaviour of the serpents/snakes. It explores the life, struggles and adapting of serpents/snakes, and does exactly what is so good about 'Life in Cold Blood'. Never thought there would ever be the admission of ever rooting for and being fascinated by a species (as said the most misunderstood of the reptiles) that usually gives me the heebie jeebies, mainly because of the body language and how they are portrayed in films, but "Sophisticated Serpents" does that. Of the five episodes of 'Life in Cold Blood', it is perhaps the most surprising in this regard.
Visually, "Sophisticated Serpents" may lack the awe-inspiring, almost cinematic quality of Attenborough's best work. With that being said, it is still beautifully shot, shot in a fluid, graceful and never static way, and is chock-full of strikingly memorable images. In every episode, the scenery and environments are beautiful to look at and are like their own characters. The music score fits very well, never overly grandiose while never being inappropriate.
Again, like so many Attenborough nature/wildlife documentaries and their episodes, "Sophisticated Serpents" fascinates, teaches, moves, entertains and transfixes. In terms of the facts there was a very good mix of the known ones and the unknown.
In this case it was mostly unknown facts and so much of the information was illuminating and made me see snakes in a different light and appreciate them more. All that are featured are given a good amount of detail, whether it's the why, how and what factors in terms of how they behave and their adapting in their respective environments.
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.
Further qualities are the wide ranging diversity of the creatures (a mix of the most common and the not so common) that are shown, that they are surprisingly big in personality and the emotional complexity. There is some tension and suspense as well as a surprising spontaneity, there is some fun and a lot of emotionally powerful moments done with a lot of tear-jerking pathos. Found myself really caring for what was told, a surprising admission on my part.
Like all the other episodes of 'Life in Cold Blood' and so much of Attenborough's other work (especially his best), "Sophisticated Serpents" doesn't feel like an episodic stringing of scenes, but instead like its own story and journey, with real, complex emotions and conflicts and animal characters developed in a way a human character would in a film but does it better than several.
Concluding, terrific with a seemingly impossible goal achieved and with misconceptions cleared up. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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