Apple TV+ steps up its nature doc game again with Earth at Night in Color. Exciting, beautiful and cute, the show is as easy to watch as it is cumbersome to say.
Narrated by Tom Hiddleston, the series looks at parts of the natural world previously only revealed in grainy and intense night vision. It’s as exciting and revealing as anyone could hope for.
Earth at Night in Color review
The degree to which nature documentaries are, as a form, indebted to the camera and lens industry is a phenomenon that should be investigated more. The internet is now littered with nature specials, whether uploaded to YouTube or streaming on Disney+ because they were picked up along with the rest of the National Geographic programming block, that have aged rather poorly.
This could be because the information is dated (always a risk when covering biology, geology or some other field that’s never at rest). Or it could be because the camera technology simply couldn’t keep up with the ambition of your average wildlife photographer or special director.
So far, Apple TV+ execs have been smart about their acquisitions in this field. They’ve picked shows with personalities that will outlast the technology and the information, whether that’s the charming Tiny World or the expertly manipulative Becoming You.
Day for night
Earth at Night in Color, which lands on Apple TV+ today, is so named because its particular achievements in form and function are so singular. It’s both a direct statement of achievement and something of a boast. No one else has seen the things this special is about to show you. You’d want to brag a little, too, if you’d discovered something about jaguars previously unknown to science.
The Apple PR site only lists Hiddleston and the show’s producers on its cast and crew page, which is a bit of a letdown because the camera work and editing are the whole show here. Not even the dulcet tones of Hiddleston can quite match the excitement of knowing you’re watching a mountain lion who has been living in Los Angeles for 10 years without capture.
I need a camera to my eye…
The directors include Simon Muriel, Tom Payne, Joe Stevens and Justin Anderson. And the photographers and operators include Warren Samuels, Nathan Pilcher, Adam Clarke, Mark Payne-Gill, Shane Moore, Warwick Sloss, Riku Karjalainen, Ben Tutton, Rolf Steinmann and Miguel Willis. The degrees to which these men pushed themselves to places unknown, and the awesome sights the captured, deserve recognition.
Highlights, which Apple TV+ wisely showcases in vital post-show “making of” segments, include Karjalainen walking for miles in the snow in the dead of night in Russia to photograph the aurora borealis. The sight is gorgeous and powerful enough to quiet Superintendent Chalmers.
The score by Christian Lundberg simply needs to keep things smooth enough that each movement of a lion’s haunches or a frog’s leg gets to our eyes easier.
A nature show for all ages
I’m of two minds about the editing, performed variously by Rupert Troskie, Alex Boyle, Andy Netley and Glenn Rainton. On the one hand, they managed to facilitate gorgeous transitions that give the animals on display more personality. On the other, I feel like they choose narratives with abrupt endings — and bring them to too tidy a close.
I don’t blame the editors themselves for this. But I do wish the producers had decided to make this program many more hours in length. They’ve finally given us a look at the deserts and jungles and cities that elude the naked eye, especially for those of us too poor to travel. I could have stayed here all day.
Earth at Night in Color on Apple TV+
Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.