Blue Planet II – 20th March 2019 – Newcastle Utilita Arena
Review by Neil Ainger
When you consider all of the awe-inspiring things that make the BBC documentary television series Blue Planet, and its sequel Blue Planet II, the incredible feat that it is, you could be forgiven for downplaying the importance of its score. The Natural History Unit of the BBC spent 4 years collecting a staggering 6,000 hours of underwater footage, diving to the depths of the planets oceans in 39 different countries and over 100 different expeditions, committing to film events unlike any that have ever been witnessed before. Having attended the Newcastle date of the UK tour of Blue Planet II: Live in Concert however, I urge you not to downplay its soundtrack. Composed by Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea and David Fleming for Bleeding Fingers Music, it is brought to the stage as part of a live concert tour by the City of Prague Orchestra and conducted by Matthew Freeman.
The crashing, powerful strings and the elegant, booming choir narrate some of nature’s most colourful and vibrant stories, presented on a huge 4K Ultra HD LED screen. Each scene, introduced by BBC Countryfile presenter Anita Rani, was shown without the familiar vocal commentary of the series’ narrator David Attenborough, which had left a lot of people wondering if the footage may lose some of its drama. The soundtrack however really did more than fill the void. Moray eels waiting beneath the water’s surface for prone Sally Lightfoot crabs, accompanied by an appropriately sinister and dangerous score, tells the viewer all they need to know when it comes to what may happen next, and the crabs speedily evading the attacks of advancing octupuses by running, skipping and leaping from rock to rock is met with a more light hearted whimsy and eventual triumphant tones as the crabs reach the safety of their feeding grounds.
Sitting front and centre, the gigantic screen fills the field of vision and is truly the most impressive way to view the incredible footage from the series, footage so full of beautiful colour and captivating in its own right that one does genuinely continue to forget that the score is being performed live in front of your very eyes by a 80-piece orchestra and choir.
As well as the Sally Lightfoot crabs, the daunting Portuguese Man-of-war with its stinging tentacles that hang 30 metres down below the surface of the water makes an appearance, as does the terrifying Bobbit worm and the in-flight battle for dinner between the puffin and the Arctic Skua. Some of the most impressive scenes from the series take centre stage and make it genuinely difficult to know exactly what it is we are supposed to be the most impressed by: the footage and the knowledge of exactly what went in to capturing it, or the gorgeous way in which its audio is brought to life. Blue Planet II: Live in Concert is a breathtaking achievement. It is a beautiful show.
As with the TV series, the tour also highlights the importance of plastic pollution and of protecting our oceans. The ‘Blue Planet Effect’ has been taken on the road and will hopefully therefore take its hold on even more families and in even more households. We share our planet with an estimated 8 million forms of life and yet do so much to damage it for all of them, ourselves included. You can perhaps credit the series with some small changes for the better already, but there is hopefully many more to come.