PROFILE/Natural treasures of Britain's Sir David Attenborough
SIR David Attenborough has the knack of bringing living things to life. Whether it's striding alongside an anteater or relaxing in the foliage at an informal gathering of gorillas, Sir David Attenborough -- naturalist, writer, and broadcaster -- emanates a sturdy sort of Dr. Doolittle enthusiasm which has made his television nature films into international classics of their kind.Skip to next paragraph
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Attenborough -- recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth II -- has been making wildlife films for 30 years. His two major series, ``Life on Earth'' and ``The Living Planet,'' brought the nature series to a new level of comprehensiveness and artistic presentation, making full advantage of innovative photographic techniques.
But despite the array of incredible creatures that Attenborough has brought to the screen, it is the Attenborough presence -- that of a good-natured professor who has managed to retain a child's enthusiasm for the natural world -- that remains the star attraction.
At the moment, Attenborough is hard at work on his latest venture, a series about man's relationship to the natural world during the development of civilization around the Mediterranean. The series is tentatively entitled ``The First Eden.''
An immensely energetic man, he shrugs off the practical difficulties of tromping around the planet in search of the evasive emu or the camera-shy cormorant, and insists that animals provide the perfect material for making television films that everyone can enjoy.
``They're easy things to make programs about because they have everything going for them,'' Sir David says. ``They are amazingly beautiful; they are amazingly unpredictable -- they're always doing things that you couldn't conceive that they would want to do, or be physically capable of doing -- and there's always something new. They are not about economics, trade unionism, politics, or war, which seem to dominate the screen everywhere else. If you make the programs well, a child of five will watch them and a zoology professor of 80 will watch them; they are multilayered programs.''
``Life on Earth,'' made in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit and first shown on British television in 1979, recounted the evolution of life forms from the simplest single-cell creatures to mammals. Advanced camera technology enabled viewers to see, for the first time, such phenomenon as the progress of a mole actually in its tunnel, and the minute movements of a fly, revealing how it manages to get lift on both the up and down movement of its wings.
The book which Attenborough wrote in conjunction with the series sold over a million copies. As a tribute to an on-screen presence which captivated even those who would normally roll their eyes slowly upwards at the mere thought of yet another nature film, Attenborough received a special award from the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts for the best ``on-screen performance in a non-acting role.''
His more recent series, ``The Living Planet,'' which not long ago completed its first showing on American television, had as its theme the examination of the ecosystems that exist across the globe: from the grasslands, to the deserts, to the mountains, to the oceans, to the air. If ``Life on Earth'' explored the competition between species, ``The Living Planet'' examined their interdependence -- and within it Attenborough found more opportunity to give voice to his concerns about conservation.
``If these series appear to be different then it's because they're prepared in quite a different way from normal animal documentaries,'' Attenborough explains.
``The usual way to make a program about the natural world is to say, `Let's make a program about anteaters.' You then go and film them and see what they do and if something splendid happens, that's great.''