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A Life on Our Planet
  • Composed by Steven Price
  • Decca / 71m

Veteran naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough – my hero – presents his vision for saving the planet’s ecosystem in A Life on Our Planet, exploring how life on earth has changed over his many decades exploring the world’s wild places and making his relatively simple suggestions as to how to reverse the destruction that our species has inflicted upon it, before we reach a point of no return.

I watched the film and thought it was about as important as anything I’d ever watched on television: a clear statement of what we must do to protect the planet for future generations of humans, how we can do it and just how dire the consequences will be if we don’t. Later, on reflection, I realised that the people most likely to watch it will probably already realise this and that those who do not are far less likely to watch.

Steven Price

Composer Steven Price has developed a fine relationship with filmmaker Alastair Fothergill in recent years after his longstanding collaboration with the great George Fenton came to an end, and indeed Price has written most of his best music for Fothergill’s projects. A Life on Our Planet is not the typical natural history series that they work on together – while it does include footage from last year’s spectacular Our Planet to illustrate many of Attenborough’s points, the film is very much a personal reflection and inevitably at times feels quite elegiac.

Given this, don’t expect the usual mix of action, comedy and drama – the focus is very much on the latter. Having said that, the score can be divided into three parts and certainly the (admittedly brief) first and last of them contain music very easy to like. The opening “Mistakes” is quite sombre in tone but for a period afterwards the music underscores Attenborough’s reminiscences about how his love of the natural world developed when he was a child and then a young man – the piano solo of “To Have Adventures” represents an English countryside idyll; later “The Wild is Finite” is majestic and inspirational.

The tide turns in “The Whole of Humanity”, which takes on a mournful air and is both emotionally vibrant (the emotion being sadness) and also extremely beautiful. Following this is a succession of similar cues – while there are some themes that repeat occasionally, essentially the pieces serve mostly as self-contained vignettes that together make up a lament to back up Attenborough’s emotive words. Price wears his heart on his sleeve throughout; at times it’s devastating, such as “A Shared Conscience” and “A Devastating Impact”, but it really does remain beautifully melodic. The highlight is possibly “Life’s Talent for Change”, much of which is one of the score’s more uplifting pieces before it darkens near the end. The darkest moment of all comes in “My Witness Statement”, at which point Attenborough explains that the extinction of most life on earth is inevitable if we don’t change our ways. Price’s music very much reflects this: respectful but mournful.

After this however the music takes on a different tone for the final act, as Attenborough explains not just how we can make a difference but also reassures that this difference can not just be profound but is also easily within our grasp if only people make an effort. A gorgeous cello theme is heard in “We Must Rewild the World”, a stunning track; “A Greater Opportunity” is warm and uplifting; “Eternal Energies of Nature” is gentle and lovely, with a grand trumpet solo at its heart; and “More from Less” is graceful and elegant.

This is a very fine album of music indeed. Perhaps controversially, a number of cues feature brief snippets of narration by Attenborough – while his is one of my favourite voices, and the words he speaks have such importance, it would have been nicer if they had been separated from the music. Still – Steven Price’s excellent score is very highly recommended. And, please, watch the film.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Momo (Reply) on Saturday 24 October, 2020 at 16:40

    As you say, anybody who willingly watches this movie probably already agrees with its message. It’s a sad state of affairs that people can be so widely misled by the pursuit of money and politicians capitalizing on fear. In the US, believe it or not, climate science is largely perceived to be a matter of personal opinion. 🙁