Netflix review: 'Our Planet' is a towering work of breathtaking wonder

David Dizon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 05 2019 05:32 PM | Updated as of Apr 05 2019 05:53 PM

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On the third episode of the new Netflix natural history series "Our Planet", there is an entire segment devoted to a young Philippine eagle learning to fly.

The four-month-old eagle, nearly a meter tall, is fed fruit bats and other animals by his 2 parent eagles - one of the 400 pairs remaining in the world. 

To survive, however, the young eagle must have some tough love. She is abandoned by her parents, her cries for food unheeded for days. Finally, she decides to learn to fly, flapping her two-meter wings for exercise and balancing on branches on toes and talons. Daily downpours do not help this young bird of prey. 

Finally, the day comes when the eagle's confidence matches know-how. 

"Now is the time to reach for the sky," narrator David Attenborough says as the young eagle jumps off her branch and flies away from her nest tree to another one beside it. 

The segment says it will take a year for the Philippine eagle to be completely independent. There is, however, a warning to this tale of wonder: 90 percent of the primary rain forest - the last refuge for the world's rarest bird of prey - in the Philippines is gone. 

"In the Philippines' fragmented forest, there's just too little prey for a supersized eagle," Attenborough says. 

It's a sobering note to what is otherwise a magnificent piece of wildlife footage in the new 8-part Netflix series, made by the creator of the landmark BBC Series "Planet Earth." 

The ambitious project, which features never-before-seen footage of wildlife and their habitats, was shot in 50 countries, with over 600 crew members, in 4 years. 

It's a towering work of breathtaking wonder; epic in scope and magnificent in its telling of a sprawling story of Mother Earth and its inhabitants, and how crucial connections on the planet are slowly being disrupted over time. 

Awe is never in short supply in this series: the very first episode shows a pod of dolphins driving a shoal of mackerel into shallower water only for the mackerel to be attacked by dive-bombing shearwaters - medium-sized seabirds that use their wings to dive six meters into the water. It's an exhilarating sight, seeing these birds plunge and swim into the moving blackened mass of mackerel for a bite while the dolphins attack them from underneath- all in the same shot. It's a scene that can only be done with infinite patience, and a willingness to do the impossible. 

In the fourth episode "Deep Seas", they echo the shot again but with more grandeur - 10,000 dolphins escaping fake killer whales and then using echolocation to locate millions of lantern fish. Once they have their fill, the dolphins leave and a pack of mobula rays attack in formation, like an undersea ballet. 

Other parts of the series are aimed to amuse or shock: a thrilling chase sequence in Episode 2 shows a pack of king penguins porpoising to land while trying to escape several leopard seals. The end of the chase, which shows seal and penguin just a few feet away from each other, exhausted from the hunt, is genuinely hilarious. A few minutes later, however, we see carcasses of walruses on the northeastern coast of Russia. As sea ice move north, thousands of walruses congregate in the area near the fishing ground - with some climbing up 70-meter cliffs and falling. It's a sobering sight; a reminder of nature's violent ways. 

"Our Planet" isn't content to just awe, shock, or entertain - it also brings an urgency to a message that needs hammering home - the planet is changing and humankind must adapt with it. Nowhere is this more evident than when the series shows 75 million tons of ice break off the Store Glacier and into the water below, all set to mournful symphony music. Later in the series, there are elephants searching for water and finding none, and footage of deep-sea corals reduced to rubble by fishing nets. 

All 8 episodes of "Our Planet" can be binged quickly, but I find that this is a series meant to be savored for its wonderful treasures such as rare footage of narwhals - nature's undersea unicorns - or the mysterious oarfish - which is fabled to predict earthquakes. In one sequence, Attenborough notes: "The stability that we and all life relies upon is being lost. What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on earth." Watching this series may be just the ticket to make the move in that direction. 

Stream, download, and enjoy "Our Planet" on Netflix starting April 5.