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'Frozen Planet' Is Really Cool TV - But Looks Better Than It Sounds
March 18, 2012  | By David Bianculli

Frozen Planet, the latest nature documentary series co-production between the BBC and Discovery Channel, premieres in the United States with a Sunday night doubleheader that is astoundingly gorgeous. But once again, at the same time Discovery rewards our intelligence by scheduling a nonfiction series this good, it also insults us -- by swapping narrators for American ears...

I can't say, loudly or emphatically enough, how maddening this is. As with Planet Earth, the previous magnificent nature series by this same team, Frozen Planet was televised in England with Sir David Attenborough -- the most famous and accomplished TV nature documentarian on the planet -- providing narration.


But when Planet Earth got to our shores, it was with Sigourney Weaver providing the narration on the audio track. Similarly, if you tune in to watch Frozen Planet on any of the Discovery Channel networks showing the series tonight, they'll all have Alec Baldwin as narrator.

Geez, Discovery executives -- if you're going to televise the same program, at the same time, on several networks, why not at least give viewers the option of watching the version with their choice of narrator? Think of it as simulcasting a movie that's dubbed on one channel but subtitled, in the original language, on the other. Some of us prefer the original language -- which, in this case, is British.

Note that on the main page of today's TV WORTH WATCHING, there's an advertisement offering, for the first time in the U.S., the chance to buy the original version of Planet Earth -- the one with Attenborough, not Weaver, telling the story. For my money, that's the one to watch, and to own. For your money, it should be, too.

And the same goes for Frozen Planet. Watch it as it unfurls over the next two months, because it's photographed with amazing artistry and patience -- but don't buy any DVDs until the ones with Attenborough are released.


To get a taste of what you'll be missing, at least for now, pay particular attention to On Thin Ice, an installment of Frozen Planet scheduled to be televised April 15. That's the episode where Attenborough (seen at the top of this column) comes front and center, and on camera, to deliver a very personal, very emphatic message about the truth and impact of global warming. As in the photo above, it's one old bear worried about another -- and it's important, unforgettable television.

But there are so many stunning images and nuggets of information, in all of Frozen Planet, that it has to be seen, no matter who's narrating or presenting the story. The super-slow motion of a snowy owl in flight is a ballet. Witnessing the very moment of the creation of a mammoth iceberg seems an impossibility -- until you see it, and realize it's not a Hollywood special effect. Just a natural one.

I review Frozen Planet at length on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which you can hear HERE. Unfortunately, it's my voice you'll be hearing, not Attenborough's -- but there's nothing I can do about that. You will, however, hear what Baldwin's narration sounds like.


And while you won't be able, on the radio, to see the thieving penguin he's describing in that excerpt, you can see a photo on that Fresh Air website. Or right here, at right.

Frozen Planet will air in double-feature helpings Sundays through April 15. Make sure to watch them. Just don't buy them -- not until you can get a version with Attenborough as narrator.


Jan D said:

Why exactly do you dislike hearing Alec Baldwin voice? Is he reading from a different script? Do facts become fiction when he says them? Does it really matter who narrates the show?

[To me, it does. Attenborough has spent half a century traversing the globe, visiting and thinking about the stuff he's describing. Baldwin, by contrast, does commercials for an airline. I like Baldwin a lot, but not for this. And if it DOESN'T matter, why not use the guy the British did? - DB]

Comment posted on March 18, 2012 8:03 PM

DerikB said:

An enjoyable program as far as I saw it, but Discovery channel seemed to be showing as many minutes of commercial as program. It was ridiculous, I had to turn it off. [One MORE persuasive reason to wait for the DVD. The British one. - DB]

Comment posted on March 19, 2012 8:58 AM
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