British photographer Eadweard Muybridge achieved a breakthrough in motion picture when he used twelve equally spaced cameras and a series of images to prove that all four hooves of a horse are airborne during a gallop. The horse runs too quick for the human eye, which has a dismal shutter speed.
It is thus often said that most technological innovations in filmmaking became possible due to the human desire to take a close look at wildlife. The technology is continuously evolving due to understandably shy and wary nature of animals towards humans. Ultra-zoom lenses and drones are common today because we wanted to learn about the lifestyle of our fellow living beings in their natural habitat.
BBC Natural History Unit, known for its association with the inimitable Sir David Attenborough, has been at the forefront of these nature documentaries right from Life on Earth, which released in 1979 and spawned a host of similar documentaries, wildlife photographers and cinematographers.
BBC’s Dynasties, narrated by Attenborough, takes an intimate look at the families of five endangered animal species: chimpanzee, emperor penguin, lion, painted wolf and tiger.
The Painted Wolf episode is probably the most remarkable in the series. It is set in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park and is about two rival packs of these imperilled canids that are also called African wild dogs.
Yes, there is family drama in this episode good enough to make the makers of Game of Thrones blush. It is quite moving as well. The family in focus, led by the matriarch Tait, is driven out of its habitat by another larger pack led by her own daughter, Blacktip. After a brief, bloody battle, Tait and her charges retreat.
The old girl is determined to keep her pack members safe, however. Desperate, she leads them to what Disney would call the Pride Lands — the realm of the lions.
Blacktip’s pack, still in pursuit, suffers casualties though. In one heart-wrenching scene, a tiny pup is torn alive by a clan of cackling hyenas. One is lost to a sudden attack by a crocodile who drags away one member in his unrelenting jaws (they have the strongest bite ever measured, after all), as its mates look helplessly.
At the end, both the packs are restored to their original habitats.
Life in the jungle is brutal, and BBC has never flinched from depicting all the tearing apart of innards. But Painted Wolf is particularly gory. If you cannot stomach it, do not even come close to this episode. The realness of all the blood and carnage as opposed to fake violence in scripted dramas stayed in my mind and put me off.
Painted Wolf is hypnotic from start to finish. Sir Attenborough’s voice remains as soothing as ever. The man could probably read a telephone directory and still hold our attention. But the real credit for this documentary must go to those who actually captured the footage.
Just when you think technology behind wildlife cinematography has improved to a point where it cannot get any better, these BBC nature documentaries come and boggle your mind all over again. The camera-work in Painted Wolf is just astounding and makes it possible to observe these magnificent animals in unbelievable detail. The visuals, in 4K, are something to behold and I am pretty sure the effect is much the same on lower resolutions. Because it is not the number of pixels that makes it gorgeous. It is the phenomenal detailing on the animals and the surroundings that make Dynasties and specifically the Painted Wolf truly special.
Painted Wolf will air on Sony BBC Earth at 9 pm on June 17.