‘Blue Planet’ takes victory lap after last year’s Emmy glory

Show wasstaged in London, Copenhagen, Hong Kong and now the Hollywood Bowl

In the year since “Blue Planet” took home the Emmy for George Fenton’s score, the BBC/Discovery Channel TV series has found a second life on the concert stage and, next year, a bigscreen incarnation.

An edited version of the eight-hour show with a newly created score that uses a considerable amount of the original work has been staged in London, Copenhagen, Hong Kong and now the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl show, though, may portend an even longer shelf life.

“Over the next several years there should be a whole U.S. tour for this work,” says Steve Linder, manager of the Hollywood Bowl, noting the production is likely to go to Canada in 2004 and then maybe Atlanta.

“Blue Planet Live” fits in with the Peking Acrobats and the Bowl’s Rodgers & Hammerstein film musical retrospective as events that got their North American preems at the Bowl and are poised to be reprised across the country, Linder says.

Beyond Fenton’s 80 minutes of orchestral music, the program requires large screens for the visuals and a narrator. In L.A., Fenton conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s perf of the music, which also won a British Academy of Film & Television Arts honor and a Panda Award. Ed Begley Jr. narrated, assisted by one of the camera operators.

“It’s nice to find yourself playing something life affirming,” says Fenton, who notes that the concert version carries an environmental message that’s not in the series. “I had a strong sense that (the music) was successful when we were doing the recording sessions and the (studio) orchestra asked if I would like to (perform) a concert with the music.”

A Brit, Fenton has been composing since 1975, starting in the theater and then moving to film, where he has written more than 80 scores.

“George, who is one the most versatile composers, is so committed to this project,” Linder notes. “There’s almost a reverence about how he feels about it. Taking the music out of its original forum and taking to people as a live event is important for orchestral music. This fits into a genre of film events that transcends film tunes.”

‘Emotionally charged’

Variety reviewer Richard S. Ginell called the Bowl perf “a sometimes emotionally charged visual experience outdoors — and the score served its bedrock purpose, to illustrate and heighten the images.”

Those images caused narrator Begley to apologize to families with children for the many bloody sequences on the screen. The most dramatic music accompanied scenes of cute sea creatures being devoured in unpleasant fashion by killer whales, sharks and the like.

Nevertheless, earlier this summer, the Berlin Philharmonic made Fenton’s score for “Deep Blue,” the pic version of “Blue Planet,” the first film score it ever recorded. Footage was screened at Cannes and the $5 million pic will receive its world premiere at Spain’s San Sebastian Film Festival in September.

“Such great images require extraordinary music and in George we have the best composer to interpret them,” says Sophokles Tasioulis, production VP of Greenlight Media, which co-produced “Deep Blue” with the BBC. “Having the Berlin Philharmonic perform his music is the equivalent of casting the best actor possible to play a leading role in one’s film.”

For the series, Fenton composed between 3½ and four hours of music and about 50 to 60 minutes of that score is part of the live show, which leans toward dramatic underwater sequences that don’t require explanation.

“Deep Blue,” too, borrows a number of cues from the TV series. “Blue Planet” was shot in 200 locations and to get some shots, cameramen had to stay put for six weeks just so the animals got comfortable with them.

“Yes it’s violent, but it’s nothing unnatural,” Fenton says. “There’s no CGI, no tricks, just footage. It’s so astounding. It’s been a kick.”