Review: The Year Earth Changed (2021)


The Year Earth Changed (2021)

Directed by: Tom Beard | 48 minutes | documentary | Voice over: David Attenborough

Much has been written, said and discussed about the devastating effects of Covid-19 on everyday life. More than we would like, the shocking numbers overwhelm us every day. Since March 2020, our existence on Earth has taken a turn that not many people have foreseen. But there is a silver lining to these dark clouds, as the documentary ‘The Year Earth Changed’ (2021) made for Apple TV+ shows.

The lockdown gave nature the chance to recover from the decades-long damage that we have caused collectively. Air traffic dropped to just a fraction of what it was before, cars remained unused and beaches and forests were less visited. This allowed animals to go about their business and to communicate, reproduce and grow in a more natural way. The air is cleaner; in India, residents were shocked to discover that the Himalayas were suddenly visible, where the view had been obscured by smog for decades. With a 70% reduction in cars on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, thus reducing noise, birds had the opportunity to let out their songs. Because cruise holidays were all cancelled, humpback whales were given free rein: they could communicate in a better way and over a longer distance. For the first time in a long time, a mother humpback whale dared to leave her calf alone so she could hunt with her peers. If the calf was in distress, she would hear him anyway.

David Attenborough is the narrator of this documentary and who is better suited than him to deliver these hopeful messages to the viewer? ‘The Year Earth Changed’ contains breathtaking images: beautiful close-ups of animals that make you realize that our existence has such a devastating effect on theirs. A turtle that lays eggs on the deserted beach, for example, or a puma that leisurely walks around and gives the cameraman the day and scare of his life at the same time. But also images of an abandoned metropolis like Paris or New York… where you – now that we have been living in the pandemic for almost two years – wonder how they filmed this. Because despite the Delta or Omicron variant, in 2022 it is almost impossible to imagine – (half) lockdown or not.

The sad conclusion is probably that it has been a temporary revival for our earth, because we don’t seem to be able to return to a life in which the earth and its non-human inhabitants get what they deserve. But the hopeful and inspiring message of this film does last. Surely a compromise should at least be feasible?