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Frozen Planet: TV Review

"Frozen Planet" (BBC)
Chadden Hunter/BBC

The Bottom Line

Frozen Planet is one of those instantly riveting series where you marvel at the beauty and majesty of it all but also spare more than a passing thought for the effort involved.

Airdate

8 p.m. Sunday, March 18 (Discovery)

From baby polar bears to orca intelligence, BBC and Discovery turn in a beautiful seven-part series tailor-made for HD.

Anyone who ever watched Planet Earth or Life needs absolutely no nudge toward the brilliance that is Frozen Planet, an upcoming co-production from the BBC and Discovery. Once you've seen these supercommitted, time-intensive, lovingly crafted explorations of the natural world, there's just no going back.

These are the kinds of series that are tailor-made for high definition and provide some of the most compelling nature and wildlife moments you'll ever see. Frozen Planet, thankfully, keeps up that tradition.

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The seven-part series, kicking off March 18, was filmed over four years and focuses on the Arctic and Antarctic regions. From penguins and owls to killer whales, elephant seals and a whole lot more, Frozen Planet is one of those instantly riveting series where you marvel at the beauty and majesty of it all but also spare more than a passing thought for the effort involved.

The camerawork here is phenomenal. On the ground, in the air, underwater -- the viewer consistently gets the sense that a very dedicated group of people made this come together. In fact, there will be a behind-the-scenes "making of" episode that's not to be missed. It's not just camera operators being blown around in 80 mph winds at 60-below that rivets, but also getting closer than comfortable to polar bears and being in the right spot when four or five killer whales decide to pop straight up out of the water next to the ice floe they're on. Some of the nature in Frozen Planet is so strangely foreign, you'll think it's CGI.

The making-of segment also neatly encapsulates why work on this epic took four years (or more) to come to fruition. While the producers and camerapeople got an inordinate amount of beautiful and stunning footage, it didn't happen like magic. Time-lapse photography is a major component of Frozen Planet, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an instance where the process was more effectively used. But it obviously took planning and a ton of patience. The first four days of filming didn't even get under way because two participants were trapped in a remote outpost while winds hitting 200 mph lashed their meager (but well-grounded) shed.

More than once, those involved in the making of Frozen Planet confess to being a little scared or concerned -- whether of flying in bad weather or the chance of getting caught in a storm that could kill them, the obstacles to filming in two of the harshest places on the planet were enormous.

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But for the viewer, the efforts pay off wonderfully. The HD cameras capturing the making of snowflakes or flying over the least discovered parts of the world or tracking icebergs bigger than any skyscraper open up a world never before seen. Mere description can't do justice to some of the more amazing aspects. For instance, time-lapse photography catches the creation of a saltwater icicle that creeps slowly to the ocean floor, freezing as it goes then freezing everything it touches. It's like watching ice as lightning -- underwater.

There's also, as one might expect, numerous cute animal encounters (particularly baby polar bears), but if you're watching with family members, keep in mind that animals eating animals on the food chain is a requisite part of these shows, as are a variety of mating rituals.

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One of the greatest and most memorable scenes is an event with killer whales that was recorded here for the first time on television -- according to the producers of Frozen Planet, scientists first witnessed the behavior in orcas in 1975. Here, we see it happen over and over again with stunning precision: Three or four killer whales swim in unison toward an ice floe with a seal on it. Just before they get to the ice, the whales use their tails to create a powerful wave that knocks the seal into the water. When the producers finish covering the orca storylines, you'll come away with newfound appreciation of how damned smart those whales are.

Narrated by Alec Baldwin, Frozen Planet will kick off with a two-hour premiere March 18 and run each Sunday through April 15. Here's hoping the BBC and Discovery are out somewhere else, spending years waiting for the best shot at the right moment so we at home can swoon on our couches at the wonder of it all.

Airdate: 8 p.m. Sundays, March 18 to April 15 (start times vary)
(Discovery)