It’s been eighteen months since Blue Planet II first aired on BBC, the series attracting equally high praise for its footage as its stunning music, composed by film score-veteran Hans Zimmer. The two unite live in concert by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Freeman, and a 4k Ultra HD LED screen.
Glasgow’s SSE Hydro was the ideal venue, beyond its own watery nomenclature. We were greeted with a giant revolving projection of the endlessly blue planet. From the darkness colours exploded onto the screen, as the orchestra erupted into its cinematic introduction.
I sat mouth agape for most of the performance. The live music only heightened the suspense of the footage, which had already left me on the edge of my seat watching from my flat’s 24-inch screen. We meet saddleback clownfish working in teams to move a giant shell. Their black and white appearance is accompanied by equally eerie music. Yet, when the female finally lays her bright eggs (much closer to the infamous Nemo-orange), the orchestra is lit in a matching hue, responding with triumphant fanfare.
The tension continually grows. Giant trevally launch themselves from the water to swallow fledgling birds whole. Hunting orca render their prey unconscious with a co-ordinated hammer blows. A lion fish is snatched into the abyss by a Bobbit worm, rising like a Little Shop of Horrors plant from the violins to consume its prey. As the fish blow on to the sand, directly onto the band below, the woodwind replies in kind. It’s a moment of perfect audio and visual unity.
Zimmer’s seamless transitions between moods narrate the creatures’ storylines, each theme layered in anticipation of the next change. We question whether the music or footage was created first (our suspicions confirmed, it’s the latter), as the two fit together so perfectly. In keeping with the audio-visual harmony, the audience unites behind the more courageous creatures. The crowd raucously cheers when a puffin escapes an epic dogfight with a skua over a piece of fish to feed its pufflings. Keen Attenboroughers are reminded of the ‘iguana vs. snakes’ moment from Planet Earth II.
Despite Rani’s best efforts, Attenborough’s narrative absence was certainly felt. We agree a more vocally-distinctive narrator might have better filled the void left by the voice of the series. Nevertheless, the series’ overarching message of human responsibility certainly hits home. The production follows sustainable practices, promoting recyclable ‘Just Water’ bottles and reducing CO2 emissions from their tour vehicles.
Perhaps the most impressive moment takes place in the darkest depths of the ocean, featuring the now infamous ‘brine pool of death’. It looks like outer space – Rani reminds us that four times more people have visited the moon than waters so deep. This scene especially stands out for its superbly co-ordinated staging, tech, and lighting.
Amidst calls for ‘one more tuna’, the orchestra encores to the triumphant flute trills synonymous with the series soundtrack, haunting live choral singing, and the giant blue orb. We leave reminded of our own individual insignificance, but collective power to affect our beautiful blue planet.
Blue Planet II: Live in Concert performed at the SSE Hydro on 27 March 2019.