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Life On Our Planet

An eight-part series which tells the four billion year story of life on Earth (couldn’t they have been a bit more ambitious?), Netflix’s Life On Our Planet is produced by Steve Spielberg and the man behind so many great natural history documentaries, Alastair Fothergill, and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It apparently uses a mix of CGI and real footage to tell its story, so I suppose it’s somewhere between Netflix’s Our Planet and Apple’s Prehistoric Planet.

The music for these shows tends to be either by George Fenton or someone impersonating George Fenton, with the sweeping orchestral majesty musically expressing the joy of the natural world, or in more recent years by Bleeding Fingers Music, going another way and trying to make it more “cinematic” and employing musical tropes more often associated with action films. Working on a project like this for the first time is Lorne Balfe and you might have a notion of which of those two styles he has leaned further towards, so you may be surprised when I report that it’s neither of them: this is very distinctly his style but filtered into “awe and wonder” mode – and I have to say, it’s really quite wonderful.

Lorne Balfe

The scores for the individual episodes will be released on separate albums – a little like Fenton’s Wild Isles earlier in the year – this initial album is a “suites and themes” release, which the composer has been doing quite a bit in recent years (much to my delight). It features 13 tracks across 42 minutes and I have to say, each of them could get onto a “best of” playlist for the composer – it’s not often you come across an album like that.

From the dramatic thrust of the brief main theme in the opening track, we get through some colossal highs – the airy dance of “Birds”, the gorgeous vocals of “Amphibians”, the playful and memorable “Ocean Life”, the John Barry-like romance of “Reptiles”, the epic drama of “Survival”. The pieces are constructed in fairly similar ways, with opening hooks leading into drama which ebbs and flows before soaring away with intensity and then finally resolving in some cases in grand style and in others fading gently off into the distance.

Even though I think everything is excellent, three cues are worthy of special attention I think. “Dinosaurs” stars with a noble horn solo espousing might before the orchestra swells around it and it becomes a giant anthem; “Mammals” features wonderfully graceful yet grand gestures from the brass, and a really great tune; and the finale, “The Power of the Planet” is a rousing way to finish, like the whole score in a microcosm really as it travels through some subtler, ethereal material on its way to a rousing climax.

If you’re not already a fan of Lorne Balfe then it’s unlikely this will convert you because it’s essentially like a grand celebration of the style he has embraced when given the chance to be more melodic in his film and tv work over the last five years or so. If you are, then you’re in for a treat. It’s a great modern blend of orchestra with electronics, the music veers between expressing the awe and wonder in an almost celestial, new age way with grand celebratory orchestral might – I love everything about it and think it’s probably the best album the composer’s ever put out, a series of powerful, stirring tracks based around good melodies which I could sit and listen to on repeat.

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  1. Valirion (Reply) on Friday 20 October, 2023 at 21:50

    Thank you, I’ll watch it later
    Dynasties(2018), Serengeti(2019), Africa(2013)
    Some of lovely wild life documentaries with lovely music you might be interested to watching