ByRicky Derisz, writer at
Staff Writer at MP. "Holy cow, Rick! I didn't know hanging out with you was making me smarter!" Twitter: @RDerisz.
Ricky Derisz

Life. How do you define it? Is it the conscious awareness of being a living, breathing member of the human race? Is it the interconnected energy source that encompasses all creatures, big and small, across the vast landscape of the planet we call Earth?

However you view life, there's some chance that David Attenborough — the iconic and prolifically awe-inspiring world treasure — has had an impact on your worldview. The nature documentary maker celebrated his 90th birthday this year, but shows no signs of slowing down, narrating and presenting a sequel to Planet Earth, due for release arriving next month.

The original Planet Earth series was released a decade ago. It received a multitude of awards and acclaim for including all the hallmarks of an Attenborough documentary; the magnetizing combination of his smooth, dulcet tones, depicting nature as an emotive story of love and loss, and, above all else, a breathtaking insight into that thing we call life.

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There is much, much more to Attenborough's fruitful career than aesthetically pleasing TV. To celebrate the release of Planet Earth II, below is a collection of some of the most profound ways his work has revolutionized our view on nature.

1. Zoo Quest ('50s and '60s)

A young Attenborough on 'Zoo Quest' [Credit: BBC]
A young Attenborough on 'Zoo Quest' [Credit: BBC]

The first major programme starring Attenborough in a lead presenting role ran between 1954 and 1963. In a stark reminder of the societal changes throughout his career, Attenborough toured with members of the London Zoo to remote tropical Islands, capturing exotic animals and later presenting them in the show's studio.

As well as helping foster an interest in the natural world many had never experienced before, Zoo Quest to Madagascar (1961) caught sight of a rare fish known as the coelacanth, a possible ancestor of all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

2. Life On Earth (1979)

There's no doubt Life on Earth was an ambitious series. Taking four years to research, the show depicted a thorough history of life on Earth (the clues in the title) and told events in the story telling format Attenborough crafted, which is now so commonly linked with nature documentaries.

A mixture of revolutionary filming techniques and dedication resulted in some stunning footage, including an iconic moment when Attenborough comes face-to-face with a Gorilla in the wild.

The series, which focused on both the small creatures and the spectacular, was watched by an estimated 500 million people worldwide.

3. The Trials of Life (1990)

As the title suggests, the series took an unflinching examination of the dark side of animal behaviour, as well as the often tragic beauty of nature. The show cemented the storytelling style that had become synonymous with Attenborough, depicting the struggles various species faced living amongst each other.

Behaviour captured for the first time by cameras includes footage of a group of killer whales deliberately swimming to shore to attack a colony of Sea Lions, illustrating the species high level of intelligence.

4. The Private Life of Plants (1995)

Plants, albeit less exciting than animals, are still living organisms. Using the latest, innovative time-lapse technology, the series managed to animated plants in a way never seen before. Groundbreaking scenes include the now iconic image of plants climbing through soil in order to reach light.

5. State of the Planet (2000)

As well as capturing events as they unfold, Attenborough has used the platform he has created to provide insightful commentary on the world's ecosystems. State of the Planet analyses the potential threats to Earth, as well as the solutions to prevent them.

In particular, Attenborough highlights the ways in which the human race is instigating extinction on a scale similar to that which wiped out the dinosaurs, as well as identifying the main activities responsible.

6. The Blue Planet (2000)

Attenborough's furore into the planet's oceans — which took five years to make — was described as the first to comprehensively explore the nature of the deep blue sea. Thanks to advanced underwater technology, many creatures were captured on film for the first time.

To obtain such unique footage, the crew used Submersible's to explore the dark depths of the ocean. The results were more than worthwhile; as well as becoming the first show to observe certain behaviours, some discoveries were completely new to science, including the migration routes of blue whales.

7. Life in the Undergrowth (2005)

David Attenborough in 'Life in the Undergrowth' [Credit: BBC]
David Attenborough in 'Life in the Undergrowth' [Credit: BBC]

Another show to uncover things never seen before, Life in the Undergrowth focused on invertebrates, an incredibly hard-to-film animal that includes insects, crabs and snails. Seen for the first time in glossy high definition, the series used special cameras to observe such creatures in up-close in their own habitat.

8. Planet Earth (2006)

The most expensive nature documentary the BBC have ever commissioned took five years to produce. More so than any other of Attenborough's series, Planet Earth looked that little bit more vibrant and sharper due to being the first BBC documentary filmed in glorious HD.

The 11 episode show combines the typical Attenborough storytelling, as well as in-depth insight into the lengths the crew go to to obtain such outstanding footage. In particular, the series will be remembered for capturing the world's first footage of the elegant Snow Leopard in its mountainous home (beating Sean Penn's character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

9. Life (2009)

The tenacity at which Attenborough produces revolutionary series has rarely slowed over his distinguished career, and Life is a great example of that. Arriving three short years after Planet Earth, it focuses on Darwin's proclaimed "struggle for existence."

Again utilizing the rapid advancements of technology, Life became a series embedded with exclusive first looks at natural phenomenon. In particular, specialized hunting techniques used by bottlenose dolphins were discovered, known as "mud-ring feeding."

Furthermore, while on the island of Rinca in Indonesia, footage showed Komodo dragons hunting water buffalo, using venom to kill their prey. This backed up recently developed scientific evidence.

10. Frozen Planet (2011)

As with State of the Planet some 11 years earlier, Frozen Planet also investigates the impact we are having on the world, and the ways in which we can remedy the damage. Focusing on the Arctic and Antarctic, the series explored how climate change is impacting landforms in the region.

11. Life Story (2014)

Just when you thought high definition was the best on offer, ultra-HD arrives. Life Story was filmed on special 4k cameras, and as with most of Attenborough's documentaries, captured never seen before footage.

In one inspiring chain of events, a humpback whale protects her calf from a group of blood-thirsty sharks by calling on a lone male whale who creates a protective barrier around the calf by blowing bubbles around it. It's mind-blowing.

12. The Hunt (2015)

One of Attenborough's most recent works, The Hunt provides an perceptive look into the battle between predator and prey. However, the show remains innovative by not only focusing on capturing events themselves, but also by highlighting special strategies adopted by the animals involved.


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