I won’t reiterate all the details of the Frozen Planet fakery ‘scandal’ that’s gotten the BBC into a bit of trouble recently, but I do think that documentaries should be more open about the techniques used in filming and editing, just as a matter of principle.
Probably every sequence† in shows like Frozen Planet is actually a cleverly edited narrative built up from several days, weeks or months worth of filming: An establishing shot from the day the crew had a helicopter; some closeups of animals that were near the camp; some wide-angle action shots of a different pack of the same kind of animal on a hunt; a kill from yet another day of shooting, and so on. It’s dishonest in the sense that the events as depicted never happened, but it’s honest in the larger sense that these are the real behaviours of those animals. Hopefully the days of staging unethical (and inaccurate) wildlife dramas for the camera are long gone.
Further, I’m sure some visual FX trickery gets employed in most episodes. I’m a little uneasy at the CGI planet Earth they like to use, but I try to think of that as just a fancy map. I was more concerned with the deep-sea footage in Blue Planet. To my eye, it seemed like a lot of the fantastic creatures were superimposed onto more interesting backgrounds, and sometimes combined so they appeared to be in a shot with another creature. So little is known about these creatures, that if any such tricks are being used they may be misrepresenting real behaviours.
I wouldn’t like for these fantastic documentaries to be ruined with an over-explanatory narration, but at the very least it seems like each episode could have an accompanying blog post that goes into some detail explaining what decisions like these have been made, and why. If nothing else, it would make fascinating reading.
- BBC Frozen Planet
- BBC Frozen Planet – The newest polar bear in the world
- BBC News: Frozen Planet: BBC denies misleading fans
† Disclaimer: I have no clue how nature documentaries are made.