Planet Earth II's second episode, "Mountains," never quite reaches the peaks of the first, extremely diverse, episode about islands and their inhabitants, but still manages to soar (sometimes quite literally) and showcase some moments of real beauty.
One of my struggles going into this second episode of this series was the problem of not really knowing what to expect, and having the bar raised so high. Some of the sequences put to film in that season opener were on par with some of the best moments of a great, cinematic movie like Interstellar.
I still can't shake that baby iguana vs. racer snake chase sequence - both the actual actions that I was seeing by the animals in this natural environment, and the editing, camerawork, narration, and capacity for storytelling. I've never felt so in sync with a nature documentary like I did while watching this. I've since re-watched this segment quite a few times on YouTube.
Where "Mountains" takes a significant turn is in it's location. While this may be obvious by the episode title, it may not be so obvious as to why this impacts the viewing experience.
The mountains on display, and their animal inhabitants, are breathtaking - but altogether desolate - at least to the naked eye. These are places on the planet that would otherwise be viewed as inhospitable.
It is a harsh reality. It is great that Planet Earth II explores these locations just as much as those in warmer climates, but unless you are someone who is particularly in love with snow covered peaks, you may find it a bit dull at times. Like anything, the experience is relative to you as a person. I for one find the island habitats to be far more interesting - with some creatures I've never even remembered seeing so substantially in a documentary form.
Do not take this as a negative review, though. Planet Earth II's view of this mountain life is still intoxicating. The opening scenes with the ibex family scaling steep mountain cliffs to head towards sources of food and back, later while evading a predatory red fox, was eye opening. I can't imagine having to live a life like that - where home and safety required careful traversal in a very dangerous place, where one slip up could lead to imminent death either by the force of the fall or falling prey to another animal in need of a meal.
In general, this episode seemed to take on a more significant and serious tone, whereas the first had numerous tonal shifts that kept the emotions swaying from happy to sad from moment to moment. Watching eagles soar, sometimes with a GoPro (or some equivalent) attached to them was fantastic, but this led quickly to a territorial battle over a rotting carcass as food on these wintry mountain peaks can be hard to come by.
With all the intriguing mountain views and wildlife, I must say the takeaway sequence was that of the beers marking their territory - or just getting out the need to scratch a good itch. The music choice in particular brought these scenes to a new level - almost an absurd one for the serious - but it was a welcomed laugh!
As before, the episode was followed by a short "making of" documentary that showed some of the videographers going to great lengths to secure a shot that would replicate the flying patterns of an eagle. This required one individual to man a para-glider, while the other shot footage. This grants a unique perspective and continues to help us, as a viewer, to better understand the process of creating these great TV documentaries.
As I have mentioned, "Mountains" does not reach the same greatness as the opening episode, but is still worthwhile to view. I really like the perspective of this Planet Earth II series in that it is isolating each episode by geographic formation. We have seen "Islands" in the season opener, and now have gone on to explore some great "Mountains." This perspective allows a nice showcase of the physical beauty of these places - as well as an ability to get on ground level and explore the wildlife as well.
The animal inhabitants of these mountains are daring and unique as they opt - whether by choice or design - to live in places most would not dare to even stay a few nights. It's impressive to see put to film!
If you enjoy Planet Earth, you can purchase the complete original series on Amazon. You can also pre-order Planet Earth II, which is already beginning to shape up as another great series in and of itself just two episode in!