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'Frozen Planet' will make you fall in love with north, south poles

'Frozen Planet' the seven-part BBC/Discovery documentary whose first episode aired Sunday night features penguins, polar bears, and a time-lapse brinicle, which has to be seen to be believed.. 

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Through it all, the filmmakers served as passive observers. But they took a cinematic approach to planning multi-angle coverage of action they hoped would unfold.

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"We were very keen to storyboard the sequences beforehand," says Fothergill. "Then, when we got on location, we would sit down and say, 'Have we got all the angles? Let's work it all out.'"

Adds Berlowitz, "We approached these holy-grail sequences thinking, 'What will it take?'"

The many up-close-and-personal scenes they bagged say as much about "Frozen Planet" as the vast scope of the enterprise, which can be expressed in remarkable statistics: four years in production; 38 camera persons; combined number of days in the field: 2,356; 1½ years at sea; hours trapped in blizzards: 840.

"The weather is often rubbish," Fothergill acknowledges. But physical discomfort isn't the real problem. "Everybody thinks it's all about storms and cold — but it's actually about 'gray light,' when the ice looks really, really ugly. You can wait for weeks, and all the while the polar bear is doing his stuff, but you have to say, 'Don't shoot it. Wait until the light is good.'"

This Sunday's episodes, "The Ends of the Earth" and "Spring," will be followed in subsequent weeks by "Summer" and "Winter." (Yes, the polar regions have seasons — in fact, greater seasonal changes than anywhere else on our planet, as the series' narrator, Alec Baldwin, reminds us.)

On April 8, viewers go behind the cameras for a "Making Of" episode, which settles many how-did-they-get-that-shot questions raised by previous installments (and helps explain how people and equipment can function in temperatures as low as minus-58 degrees).

Then, as part of the two-hour finale on April 15, "On Thin Ice" investigates what climate change will mean for the people and wildlife at the poles, as well as the rest of the planet in between. This episode charting the effect of rising temperatures is reported by British naturalist David Attenborough (who hosted "Life in the Freezer" 19 years ago).

"The structure of our series," says Fothergill, "is to show the places. Then we engage in the animals' drama and lives. Then we show a bit of how we went about making the series. Then we let viewers learn about the environmental reality of it all in an objective, nonsensational, nonjudgmental way.'"

Hearing that, Berlowitz quotes the late ecologist-documentary superstar Jacques Cousteau, who famously noted, "We only protect what we love."

"Our goal," says Berlowitz, "is to do films that make people fall in love with the animals and places. What we want is for people to love them."

Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter.

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