If you have a fondness for nature documentaries, you are probably familiar with the amazing documentaries by the BBC, all of which are narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Many have been produced over the years, and some contain excellent music by well-known composers like Hans Zimmer and Steven Price. The latest addition to the series is A Perfect Planet, with music by Ilan Eshkeri.
The focus of A Perfect Planet is on five forces of nature: volcanoes, sun, weather, oceans and humans. Each of the five episodes focuses on one of them, with short stories about animals somewhere on the planet, which are somehow tied to that specific force of nature. The approach Eshkeri took, was to treat each small story as its own entity that needs to be supported with music.
To get into the detail of every track would make this review multiple pages long, so I will only mention some of the tracks that really stood out to me. The first one is “Flamingos,” with an absolutely gorgeous and emotional melody that keeps repeating from the start of the track until the end, but, while doing so, it constantly changes at the same time. At the two-minute mark of “Wildebeest” you can hear a fantastic part of fast patterns with an erratic sounding melody layered over it. This hunting theme appears multiple times during the series and in “Arctic Foxes” this theme’s melody even takes center stage.
Most of the tracks contain orchestral music with additional instruments or voices. “Sooty Shearwaters” is a wonderful example of a beautiful orchestral cue with a buildup to a superb finale. Some other tracks feature less traditional sounds. “Silver Ants,” for example, is a fast-paced cue that blends foreign string sounds with electronics. “Manta Rays” is also a track with many electronic sounds, combined with traditional string instruments.
Even though I only mention some of the tracks that are used to support the small stories, this does not mean the other tracks are a lesser listening experience, because I have not found a track on this album that I did not like. Each of them is perfect in supporting the visuals, and none of them are in the way of Attenborough’s wonderful voice.
A potential pitfall for using the approach of treating every story as its own musical entity is the possibility of losing an overall identity for the series in all these different melodies and instrumentations, but to counter that Eshkeri uses a simple but gorgeous main theme that keeps reappearing and ties all the individual parts together. It should come as a surprise that it can be heard right at the start of the album in “A Perfect Planet,” in which you can hear several versions of the melody performed by different instruments and voices, including a children’s choir. The main theme is by far the highlight of this album for me, and I was quite happy to hear it multiple times on the score. Especially the version with the fast-paced foundation of strings, which can be heard in “Volcanoes, for example,” and in the last track “A Changing Planet,” is excellent, but other versions are marvelous as well, e.g. in tracks like “Sunlight,” “Summer” and “Autumn.”
While I was watching the series, I was regularly in awe at how gorgeous and inventive nature can be. The stunning visuals are breathtaking, and I do think that Eshkeri’s beautiful music perfectly adds to the magic. In interviews Eshkeri has mentioned multiple times that his five-year-old daughter was humming the main theme all the time, and that made me smile, because that is exactly what I as an adult man experienced as well. I just cannot get the gorgeous theme out of my head. Also mentioned in the interviews was the difficulty of recording the music during the pandemic, but with that said, the soundtrack, as the result of it, is a very strong and at the same time a marvelous start of the year 2021.
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The highlights are in bold.
- A Perfect Planet (3:14)
- A Perfect Balance (Episode 1 – Volcanoes) (2:17)
- Wildebeest (Episode 1 – Volcanoes) (3:51)
- Flamingos (Episode 1 – Volcanoes) (6:21)
- Vampire Finches (Episode 1 – Volcanoes) (3:31)
- Bears (Episode 1 – Volcanoes) (6:05)
- Volcanoes (Episode 1 – Volcanoes) (2:09)
- Sunlight (Episode 2 – Sunlight) (1:29)
- Gibbons (Episode 2 – Sunlight) (2:34)
- Arctic Foxes (Episode 2 – The Sun) (4:30)
- Silver Ants (Episode 2 – The Sun) (3:02)
- Autumn (Episode 2 – The Sun) (1:38)
- Snub-Nosed Monkeys (Episode 2 – The Sun) (2:44)
- Sooty Shearwaters (Episode 2 – The Sun) (4:29)
- Fire Ants (Episode 3 – Weather) (4:30)
- Giant River Turtles (Episode 3 – Weather) (4:25)
- Red Crabs (Episode 3 – Weather) (3:52)
- Summer (Episode 3 – Weather) (1:31)
- Dry Season Pt. 1 (Episode 3 – Weather) (2:32)
- Dry Season Pt. 2 (Episode 3 – Weather) (4:10)
- A Changing Climate (Episode 3 – Weather) (1:53)
- Marine Iguana (Episode 4 – Oceans) (4:16)
- Cuttlefish (Episode 4 – Oceans) (3:24)
- Mangroves (Episode 4 – Oceans) (4:29)
- Manta Rays (Episode 4 – Oceans) (3:52)
- Spring (Episode 4 – Oceans) (1:02)
- Hardyheads (Episode 4 – Oceans) (3:00)
- Rockhopper Penguins (Episode 4 – Oceans) (4:16)
- Eden’s Whales (Episode 4 – Oceans) (3:20)
- Elephant Orphans (Episode 5 – Humans) (2:40)
- Climate Refugees (Episode 5 – Humans) (2:28)
- The Rainforest (Episode 5 – Humans) (2:49)
- Reforestation (Episode 5 – Humans) (1:40)
- A Changing Planet (Episode 5 – Humans) (4:28) (3:14)
Total length: 1 hour and 52 minutes
Sony Classical (2021)