Directed By: Alastair Fothergill
Starring: David Attenborough
Line form the film: "This is our planet's final frontier, and a world where only the most adventurous dare to go"
Trivia: The cave crew had to spent a whole month filming on the world's largest pile of poo (actually bat guano)
I know it’s a television series, but Planet Earth was such a monumental achievement that I simply couldn’t ignore it. Produced in 2006 by the BBC’s Natural History Unit, Planet Earth was shot over a five year period in just about every corner of the globe. With David Attenborough taking his familiar place behind the mic as narrator, the series presents eleven episodes, each covering a different earth-bound habitat. And while all eleven are phenomenal, the one I chose to focus on was episode #4, titled Caves.
Referred to as “the planet’s final frontier”, Caves travels miles underground to explore areas that most humans have never seen. With sequences shot in Mexico (the Cave of Swallows in San Luis Potosi is the deepest cave shaft in the world, so large that New York’s Empire State Building could stand inside it), Borneo (Deer Cave, located outside the city of Miri, is home to several species, including 3 million bats), and North America (the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico feature some remarkable stalagmite formations), Caves exposes us to the wonders of this mysterious habitat, which is, at times, as disturbing as it is lovely.
More often than not, the imagery in Caves will take your breath away. The episode opens with an above-ground shot in which a few adventurous souls (aka BASE Jumpers) leap into the Cave of Swallows, free-falling for a short while before deploying their parachutes. Switching to an interior angle, with the camera set up on the cave floor, we watch these jumpers float downward into the darkness, and it’s an incredible sight. So, too, is the scene in which Deer Cave’s enormous bat population makes their daily flight to the jungle below in search of food, only to be snatched up by falcons and eagles that are also looking for a good meal (like many documentaries of this ilk, Caves shows us nature at its most brutal as some of the bats fall victim to the birds of prey). In addition, Caves has several underwater sequences; in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the cameras traverse an underground river that runs for miles, and in so doing capture what is perhaps the show’s most amazing image: that of divers who, because the water is “split” into fresh (above) and salt-filled (below), look as if they’re floating in mid-air.
Of course, not everything in nature is beautiful, and Caves doesn’t shy away from the more disgusting aspects of this underground realm. Along with its assortment of bizarre creatures (including a salamander that, because it lives in total darkness, has no eyes), we’re taken to the very bottom of the Cave of Swallows, where the largest pile of bat shit in the world resides (home to thousands of cockroaches, which scurry across the guano looking for something to eat). Still, Caves, like the other 10 episodes, is more spectacular than it is repulsive, and if you’re like me, you’ll be amazed by what this show, and all of Planet Earth, has to offer. Much more than a TV series, it’s a collection of in-depth mini-documentaries, each as extraordinary as the other, and you won’t want to miss a single one.