As someone who grew up watching wildlife documentaries on Discovery Channel, I always found that within these documentaries was a method of scoring that truly separated itself away from the rest. Wildlife documentaries were the very essence of image and sound storytelling. There’s no dialogue minus the narration of the host, and it’s BBC Earth’s documentaries that truly took this practice to a whole new realm. Planet Earth was one of the most impressive docuseries ever conceived, and now it’s back. The first series featured a wonderful score by George Fenton, Gerry Moffatt and Sam Watts. This time we have an incredibly immersive score by composers Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe with a theme from Hans Zimmer.
You’ll notice on the cover that the score is credited to Jacob and Jasha “for Bleeding Fingers Music”. And if you recall back to the soundtrack of Sons Of Liberty, you’ll see that the credit is “Score by Lorne Balfe Courtesy Of The Bleeding Fingers Custom Music Shop”. So what the hell is Bleeding Fingers you ask? Bleeding Fingers is a joint venture between Extreme Music, Hans Zimmer and Steve Kofsky. The idea essentially was to innovate music licensing and change the music library model while giving younger composers a voice in the industry. While in concept, the idea was for a show to have custom library music created for it, that wasn’t the case for Planet Earth II. Jacob and Jasha scored completely to picture here, and you can tell how in sync with the images the music is.
The key to nature documentary scoring is simple, pick an adjective or two to describe the scene then use that as groundwork as you tailor the music to the motion of what’s being depicted. So if the scene is a tiny iguana being chased by snakes, that would be dangerous. A scene of penguins could be fun and warm. Something could be quirky and cute or even awe inspiring. Whatever it is, it dictates the tone of the music, and then it’s pretty much building a small narrative that resolves itself by the end of the segment or scene. Sounds simple and straight forward on paper, but then try applying it to a mammoth series like Planet Earth II and make it a cohesive journey. Those are skills that cannot be taught, but they are ever-present in Jacob and Jasha’s music which is a testament to their skills as storytellers. The score will send chills, give goosebumps, extract tears and at times give an all encompassing nurturing warmth. By the end of it you’ll have gone on a truly wondrous journey that reminds us just how truly special the life on our planet is. The magic here is that this score takes what we expect from wildlife doc scoring and turns it up a notch to make music a truly active participant in the storytelling outside of David Attenborough's narration. While there are still some moments of that forced "cutesy" music that usually accompanies a baby animal trying to walk for the first time, the majority of this score is some of the best wildlife documentary scoring you'll experience.
Planet Earth II is a testament to the talents of composers Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe, and their ability to bring the incredible imagery of this miniseries to life. By finding the core emotions of each segment, the music works with the image in a near-perfect way to put us as an audience within the world being depicted. The music is an observational love-letter to the beautiful and intriguing life that we share our planet with. Planet Earth II is a magnificent achievement of wildlife documentary filmmaking, and it’s elevated immensely thanks to Jacob and Jasha’s fantastic score.
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