Lost Land of the Volcano

Last night saw the first in a new three part natural history series on BBC1 called Lost Land of the Volcano.
The series follows a team of scientists as they search a remote part of New Guinea in a search for new species. I know this, because the programme mentioned it. Quite a lot.
In fact they mentioned most of the things they told us quite a lot in the Philip Glenister voiceover.
Then there was the story-telling style. Series like Planet Earth and South Pacific in recent years have been edited to 50 minute lengths for international sales (where they’ll be shown with ads), while we’re used to seeing full hours on the BBC, so we get ten minute “diaries” stuck on the end. These can be pretty interesting, learning about the lengths that various film-makers have gone to get those amazing shots.
But in Lost Land of the Volcano, this approach has now extended into the programmes proper. We got endless aerial shots of the film-makers’ and scientists’ camp. We were repeatedly introduced to the various characters, just in case we’d forgotten who the “characters” were. Of the whole team, only one seemed to be a cameraman. Which was odd because there were often cameras on him shooting other footage. And the credits listed at least half a dozen camera crew.
Broadly, if the programme was to be believed, there seemed to be three people doing things. The scientist who searches for insects, the aforementioned cameraman, and some kind of action man who mostly appeared shirtless showing off his “ripped” torso (there’s also an attractive female bat expert to make sure all sexual preferences are covered off).
The action man headed off to climb into some caves hundreds of miles away. Every time the going gets tricky, in true primetime dumbed-down style, we cut to another “storyline”, only returning to our hero later. So we see someone else finding a possibly deadly snake in the jungle… And then we cut back to our hero on a rope swinging into the cave behind a waterfall where a cameraman already seems to be… Before cutting back to the snake which is now non-venemous… And so on.
All the while the team is finding new species. They arrive in small bags and traps – although we don’t often see how they were trapped (some vague shots of nets appeared early on). Could it offend our sensibilities? One bat was brought in injured and nursed to recovery. It didn’t injure itself in a net placed out by the programme makers who trapped it could it?
Every newly discovered species is clocked up. And at every stage we’re told that they’re discovering far more new species than they’d planned to! That’s great to know. Just to make sure, we heard it at least four times in the hour.
But then we cut back to our intrepid cavers. Are they really exploring this cave series at the same time as we’re watching events elsewhere? Or could these events have happened days or weeks apart?
I tend to believe the latter, but producers seem to believe that our short attention spans mean that we can’t cope with concentrating on one thing for more than a couple of minutes. And every time we cut back, we have to be reminded what we were watching before (if you ever watch any daytime factual programming, you’ll know what I’m talking about).
The series loves its helicopters. As well as lots of aerial jungle shots – which are impressive – we have lots of aerial shots from helicopters of other helicopters. They take off. They land. They swoop through valleys. They appear from the foliage.
And they showed us the loggers. From the narration we were led to believe that the loggers will be reaching this part of the rainforest any day now. I don’t doubt that logging is a real issue, and deforestation will cause countless species to be made extinct, mostly before we even discover them. But don’t just show us the evil loggers from menacing helicopter shots without making clear how likely they’ll be reaching the area we’re based in.
Overall, this was programme felt like a daytime programme fighting its way out of a primetime nature documentary. The thing is that the presenters are actually personable and enthusiastic. Certainly this isn’t a David Attenborough voiceover style documentary, and they don’t all need to be. But it doesn’t have to pander the kind of person who would Cash In The Attic a challenging watch.
The fact that it gained 4.1m viewers last night will probably just mean that we see more documentaries fashioned in this style and not fewer.

1 Comment

  1. I laughed out loud when the team’s leading ‘scientist’ started lecturing the village headman about their decision to sell trees for essential medical supplies and schooling. This came from a team of at least 50 airlifted into the middle of the rainforest complete with helicopter and rubber boats. Who is the ‘greener’ I asked myself , or perhaps just the more ignorant. I agree that this is dumbed down daytime TV which has been allowed to escape into a primetime slot.

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