Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Blue Planet, The (2001)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Blue Planet, The (2001)
BBC1, 12/9-31/10/2001
8 x 60 minutes, colour
Production CompanyBBC Bristol
 Discovery Channel
Series ProducerAlastair Fothergill
EditorMartin Elsbury
MusicGeorge Fenton

Narrator: David Attenborough

Show full cast and credits

The rich array of life in the world's oceans and seas.

Show full synopsis

This astonishing documentary, nearly five years in the making, deserves to be considered one of the most exceptional achievements of BBC Bristol's highly accomplished Natural History Unit, tackling a subject that makes up seven tenths of the Earth's surface and yet which is, in parts, less well-explored than the surface of the moon. As the BBC's pre-publicity was anxious to point out, the open ocean presents challenges for the natural history filmmaker beyond anything on land - its very vastness means that finding your subject can be a daunting task, and many of the series' most striking sequences were the result of weeks, months or even years of patient waiting for shots that would in the end take up, at most, just a few minutes of screen time.

Though David Attenborough lent his voice to the series and wrote much of the narration, he doesn't appear on screen, and The Blue Planet doesn't belong in the epic 'Life' series that he begun with Life on Earth (BBC, 1979), but is instead a precursor to the similarly ambitious Planet Earth (BBC, 2006), overseen by producer Alastair Fothergill.

With a suitably magisterial score by George Fenton, the series offered a feast of enrapturing images: killer whales playing a gruesome game of catch, tossing captured seals dozens of feet into the air; emperor penguins, wary of the threat of ferocious leopard seals, launching themselves on to the ice like missiles; a blue whale and her calf; carnivorous corals; bizarre and beautiful organisms, translucent and illuminated against the black of the deep ocean like creatures from the brush of the surrealist Joan Míro; the predatory orgy following migrating sardines off South Africa's coast (in one of several firsts, The Blue Planet's cameramen captured a previously unseen behaviour, as dolphins, working in packs, release air bubbles to marshal the sardines into ever tighter 'bait balls' before gorging themselves on their helpless prey).

The series' most dramatic sequence followed the relentless pursuit of a migrating grey whale and her calf by a pod of killer whales. Over many miles, the hunters keep up their chase, forcing the mother whale to flee at a pace that her calf cannot maintain for long. Eventually, she is forced to rest and the ruthless killers move in, forcing themselves between mother and calf. In the end, the young whale's carcass hangs limp; the killers have eaten only the lower jaw.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Visitors from the open ocean (2:45)
2. The sardine feast (4:24)
3. From the dark depths (1:55)
4. Pursuit of the grey whales (7:21)
Complete first part (47:47)
Private Life of Plants, The (1995)
Zoo Quest (1954-61)
Fenton, George (1950-)