“I think we all think of migrations to be this epic, beautiful movement. A sort of a global ballet that’s happening across the planet. We don’t really understand just how incredibly difficult and arduous and torturous these missions are that animals don’t undertake lightly. The only reason they go is if they don’t go either they will die or their species will die,” says Producer David Hamlin.
An animals’ need to move or die is the underlying theme of National Geographic’s most epic documentary series, Great Migrations.
Two and a half years in the making, spanning 670,000 kilometres across 20 countries and all seven continents, this landmark HD television event will premiere simultaneously around the globe on November 7th.
Hamlin told TV Tonight the 7 hour series was a labour of love and science, filled with dramatic moments of the lives of some of the planet’s most amazing creatures.
“That need to move, move or die is really powerful. It’s powerful for story telling, it’s powerful for connecting with animals in a new way.”
Hamlin was asked to do the series following his series Reptile Wild and Expedition Journal. Great Migrations would prove to be his most ambitious task yet.
“National Geographic approached me and said: ‘We want to do a large scale project, the biggest thing we’ve ever done in our 122 year history on migrations.’ So I sort of got handed this premise and then we really put the team together and started working on it.
“Frankly, it was the perfect choice and even today looking back on it there couldn’t have been a better idea to wrap a massive project around, because Migrations perfectly fits the bill for what National Geographic is all about.”
The series reveals new scientific insight, previously undocumented behaviours and a visual record of a diverse range of animal migrations, including red crabs on Christmas Island, flying foxes in Australia, Pacific great white sharks, Botswana zebras, Mali elephants and army ants in Costa Rica.
Hamlin says the premise perfectly lent itself to documentary drama.
“Number one, migration is a story, it’s a journey, so it has a clear beginning, middle and end. It has protagonists, it has heroes, it has obstacles and, I don’t want to call them villains, but there’s predators, and there’s human pressures. So migrations offered us this magnificent tableaux and stage to drive these narratives and drive these films.”
Despite the National Geographic name, there were other productions that had set a high standard.
“Undeniably, the bar had been raised by some of the BBC work of Planet Earth and Life and we wanted to do our own version of that calibre, if not better with stunning visuals and to really try and push the envelope,” he says.
“The whole high definition universe has allowed us to rewrite our film library. There’s an opportunity to go back and the world, the entire world is our oyster again. It’s a clean slate because now we can film it with astounding technology at the highest resolution viewers have ever seen. So it’s a chance to revisit the entire planet and if you‘re going to stop and do that, then let’s do it with magnificent story telling.”
Great Migrations features a score by composer Anton Sanko (Big Love) and narration by Alec Baldwin.
While it has strong themes about preservation, Hamlin says it is primarily intended as a natural history documentary.
“I don’t want people to get the idea that this is a bleeding heart conservation story. It has a strong conservation message, but it is about the wonder of animal movement, and the very serious stakes because of the human pressures.
“So if I don’t get you to care about the animals that move, I can’t get you to care about changing your own behaviour. We have to be great story tellers first, and hopefully we’ve done that.
“In terms of human movement, I guess I’ve learnt we ought to think of ourselves as pretty strong single minded species, and we are. But we are nothing compared to the vibrant single-mindedness of these animals.”
Great Migrations premieres 7:30pm Sunday November 7th on National Geographic.