A BBC nature documentary with no contribution from David Attenborough, is that possible? Hell yes. Because although “Sir David” is still heavily involved in the production of BBC nature documentaries despite his advanced age (he recently made “Africa”, for example), he is now a bit more selective in his choices. For example, he did not interfere with the three-part series “Wild Arabia” (2013). This nature documentary not only shows the flora and fauna, but also has an eye for the people who inhabit the Arabian peninsula and also highlights their culture. Behind the camera is British biologist and war veteran Steve Backshall, who, unlike Attenborough, is still at the beginning of his career. He filmed in Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others. Commentary on the images is provided by the British-Sudanese actor Alexander Siddig.
The Arabian Peninsula has captured the imagination for centuries. It is seen as a romantic, mysterious and sealed off area, which is difficult to penetrate and reveals little of its beauty. The land of the fairytales of a thousand and one nights, with its ancient culture and breathtaking landscapes. The three-part series “Wild Arabia” takes the viewer on a journey across sandy plains as far as the eye can see, past rare game that knows how to adapt to the harsh conditions. But also man and the traces he has left behind in the area for centuries, Backshall gets to his lens. In the first part – “Sand, Wind and Stars” – he takes us to the heart of the desert. We meet the oryx, a rare desert inhabitant who can adapt like no other to the harsh conditions and is said to be the source of inspiration for the unicorn. But those other desert nomads, the Bedouins, also play a leading role. Spectacular ruins, rocky ravines and endless sandy plains are home to special animals, including the jerboa or jumping mouse, sandfish, desert foxes and Nubian ibexes that get into a fierce battle.
The second part is called “The Jewel of Arabia”, which focuses on an unknown pearl on the otherwise largely inhospitable Arabian peninsula. The south coast of Oman, in the Dhofar Mountains, is teeming with life. Local biologists are planting a camera to capture the rarest and most elusive animals, including the Arabian leopard, wolves and hyenas. In the run-up to summer, the wet Indian monsoons hit the Arabian coast, resulting in churning seas and raging clouds. Spectacular mist banks turn the mountains into a green paradise: wild flowers, waterfalls and cloud forests spring up everywhere. Who could have imagined that Arabia also hid this spectacle within itself.
Shifting Sands, Part Three, begins spectacularly with a camel race. A wonderful way to show the progress that has gripped the Arabian Peninsula. Where for centuries “riders” rode the camels, today they are driven by robots to make them go as fast as possible. This progress, fueled by the Gulf oil industry, is the theme of the third part of this nature documentary. Industry not only has negative consequences for nature, we quickly learn. The Arab population uses its acquired wealth to develop technologies to protect its unique flora and fauna.
The BBC’s nature documentaries are known for their breathtakingly beautiful images and ‘Wild Arabia’ fits seamlessly into the list including ‘Planet Earth’ (2006), ‘Life’ (2009), ‘Frozen Planet’ (2011) and ‘Africa. ‘ (2013). Spectacular slow-motion images of fighting ibex, accelerated transitions of day and night, impressive landscape views and unique footage of the rarest and most shy animals; it all comes over. This makes ‘Wild Arabia’ a vibrant and dynamic spectacle. Alexander Siddig is of course not David Attenborough – he lacks, for example, the experience and the touch of humor that his illustrious professional brother would undoubtedly have added – but that does not detract from the documentary as a whole. “Wild Arabia” is a wonderful addition to the BBC’s already rich range of wildlife films.