Sir David Attenborough and the BBC’s Natural History Unit have brought us many spectacular sights over the years. Now, a challenge: how to make plants as exciting as animals? To have us in awe of a leaf?
The answer, in episode one of The Green Planet (BBC One), was to shoot scenes in the style of a 1970s horror film – never more so than with the amorphophallus titanum, otherwise known as the corpse flower. When we first saw it, it looked like a deflated football. But through the wonders of timelapse photography we saw it grow into a monstrous thing, a metre wide. In close-up, it appeared to have whiskers and teeth. Its petals are the colour of blood, Sir David informed us, and from its centre it emits “the pungent odour of death”. Gaze upon it and shudder.
Deep beneath the forest floor, another living thing consumes 50,000 leaves a day. It is a fungus, and sends out an army of leafcutter ants to do its bidding. Eventually, the source of these leaves fights back with a poison, so the fungus selects another tree as victim.
All of this was shot beautifully using new technology – a robotic camera known to the team as the Triffid and developed, we learned at the end of the episode, by an ex-military engineer in the US who worked on it in his spare time. As with all these natural history programmes, there was an orchestral soundtrack that we could easily have done without.