Discovery’s recent spate of high-definition nature documentaries has made the spectacular ordinary, assembling jaw-dropping footage from across the globe. In that context, “Africa” — a new seven-part series from the team responsible for “Life” — feels somewhat victimized by having been there and seen that. Still impressive in moments, based on the premiere, it appears to be less memorable than some of this collaboration’s recent nature projects, which hopefully won’t dissuade the partners from forging ahead with more.
The premiere hour puts its best gangly feet forward by opening with the most arresting sequence: An epic turf battle between two giraffes, who sling their necks at each other like lanky knights wielding a mace and chain. The slow-motion slugfest is, by itself, practically worth the price of admission, though little of what follows comes close to rivaling it.
While this might sound like a quibble, the narration (Forest Whitaker handles the U.S. version) also contains some unnecessarily cheeky lines, like quipping that a female rhino who rebuffs a potential mate has a “headache.” OK, everyone wants to reach younger demos, but that shouldn’t mean turning something of this variety — with the potential to be stately, stirring and educational — into open mic night at the Improv.
As usual, the producers have spent years assembling the footage, and will commemorate their admirable commitment and breakthrough photography with an hour devoted to how they acquired these jaw-dropping shots, which (especially when dealing with smaller beasts, like spiders and hideous-looking crickets) is frequently among the most interesting parts of these projects.
Both Discovery and BBC deserve enormous credit for continuing to invest in these programs, especially when it’s so much cheaper and easier to go scour pawn shops or garages for colorful bipeds than to unearth spider-killing wasps in the Kalahari desert or capture new chimp behavior in the Congo.
Having set expectations so high, though, Discovery has become a bit of a prisoner to its own success. Then again, that’s sort of a nice problem to have, and if you can’t stand the heat, hey, stay out of the HD jungle.