At least three times watching the first episode of Discovery’s upcoming series Africa, I hit the “back” button, because I could hardly believe what I’d seen.
And at this point, it’s hard to expect anything less from the production team-up of Discovery Channel and BBC, which has brought us Planet Earth, Life, and last year’s Frozen Planet.
The seven-part Africa premieres Tuesday, January 8, at 10 p.m. Eastern, with an episode centered on life in the Kalahari, from giraffe battles to speedy arachnid getaways to armored ground crickets that wield their own blood as a weapon.
The survival techniques on display are amazing enough in their own right; the skill and technology and inventiveness that went into capturing them in high-definition and slow motion add new levels of wonder. You want goosebumps? That shot of the black rhinoceros is from an incredible segment on what may be the Earth’s last great gathering places of these animals known for their solitary nature – and it was shot by solely by starlight, using ultra-sensitive cameras.
I figured on the usual suspects like the aforementioned giraffes, the elephants, and the meerkats. But I was also introduced to wholly new things like fossil water (what a cool term!) – and the blind cave catfish that live there. Discovery.com has a nice video from this visit to Dragon’s Breath Cave, as well as other clips from the show.
If there’s a weakness in the pilot episode, it’s in a brief bit of overplayed narrative tension and the “Oh, no! Tiny Creature is in Danger! >Dun-dun-DUNNNNN!!<” emoting and music. That said, the review copy provided by Discovery does read “temporary narration,” so it’s possible this has been toned down for the final cut, or for later episodes. In any case, it’s more of a wincing moment than a real distraction, and it passes quickly.
The four subsequent episodes are “Savannah,””Congo,””Cape,” and “Sahara,” followed by a “Making of Africa” special about the four-year filming, and “Africa: The Future,” hosted by David Attenborough. If “Kalahari” (and the previous Discovery/BBC productions) are any indication, Africa will make for another enthralling trip.