Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 12, 2019)
When we last saw Sir David Attenborough, he narrated a BBC nature documentary called Blue Planet II. While that one concentrated on aquatic topics, 2018’s Dynasties focuses on land-based animals.
Each of the five episodes focuses on a different species. First we head to Senegal to follow a group of chimpanzees, and the second chapter takes us to Antarctica for time with emperor penguins.
For Episode Three, we visit Kenya to meet a pride of lions. Episode Four goes to Zimbabwe for a painted wolf pack, while Episode Five finishes with a trek to India and a view of tigers.
One issue I took with Blue Planet II stemmed from its general formlessness. As the series visited watery locations, it lacked much of a real arc to sustain the viewer beyond its stunning visuals.
Those proved sufficient to make Planet worthwhile, and the shows also came with thematic elements to provide additional stimulation. Still, the episodes fared best as dazzling photography.
With the creatures of Dynasties, though, we get a much clearer emphasis on potential storylines. Indeed, the title reveals that the series will attempt narrative elements, as it implies the animals will emerge via their family/social structures.
This becomes the case, as Dynasties tends to pick specific clans and shows how they evolve. The view of the penguins feels more general, but it actually comes with the series’ most emotional moments.
At one point, we see adult penguins as they attempt to reach safer territory, and one poor chick gets left behind. We view as this little guy struggles to follow but fails, and his probable death offers the most traumatic aspect of the series.
Otherwise, Dynasties varies in terms of how it deals with tragedy. The episode about the wolves involves the most death, but otherwise the shows tend toward a more positive tone, which I think works.
Not that I think a series like this should offer a happy-happy view of wildlife, but I think it makes sense to keep away from too much death and tragedy. The loss of that sweet little penguin chick is bad enough – we don’t need hours of that material!
In any case, the stories on display feel like icing, as the main attraction of Dynasties comes from the nature of the photography. We truly get up close and personal with these amazing animals, and the shows boast many captivating sequences and insights.
Blue Planet II brought a prettier show, as all that aquatic material allowed for intoxicating visuals. However, as I mentioned, Dynasties lends itself toward a stronger character/narrative thrust, and that makes it the more involving of the two. It may not look as lovely, but it brings compelling photography nonetheless.
If we didn’t have to watch that poor baby chick struggle or that cute wolf cub get chomped, I’d love Dynasties. As it stands, I endorse the project, heartbreaking sequences aside.