Caught In The Act Review: Walk On The Wild Side Of Life

June 1, 2010 by  
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CAUGHT IN THE ACT: Tuesday 1st June, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WILD, 10pm ALERT ME

In Les Blank’s documentary Burden Of Dreams, Werner Herzog famously ruminated on the nature of the jungle: “It’s not so much erotic, but full of obscenity. Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotic here. I see fornication and asphyxiation and choking, fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away… It’s the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.?

National Geographic’s latest ‘nature documentary’ unwillingly accepts Herzog’s assertion that ultimately the world we live in is unforgiving. Instead the viewer is urged to will on the underdog, ditching the want for a deeper understanding of the dynamics between wild animals in favour of a sentimentalised notion of their untamed kingdom.

The programme is structured around incidents where animals act outside of their normal behavioural patterns, such as honey badgers unexpectedly confronting a herd of zebras or a hyena fighting off a lizard. In this sense it taps into the collective want of most people who instinctively prefer to witness something live than die, which plays a part in what makes nature documentaries so thrilling.

In an example of the incessant personification of the safari beasts the innocuous voice of the narrator informs the viewer that, having witnessed a fully grown hippo protect its young against a ferocious lion, it is in fact a rare example of the “few happy endings? that occur in nature. The tone is one of regret as if the lion should see the errors of its ways and patiently await the arrival of a safari branch of Tescos to set up shop so it can swap baby meat for tofu.

The crass humanisation of animals purported by this programme is encapsulated by the pronouncement that, “unfortunately [the wild poses] an array of dangers and threats?. It’s one thing to regret that life on Earth is merciless and cruel, it’s another point entirely to lament it as if the animals are engaged in a pointless civil war that threatens to sentence them to extinction.

Rather than face an uncomfortable truth, Caught In The Act prefers to cushion its audience with multiple scenes of lucky escapes, occasionally facilitating a brief refrain to the ‘reality’ of the wild which it then feels the necessity to apologise for. Having seen an infant hippo and its mother ripped to shreds the narrator wraps a warm blanket around the quivering viewers: “[The hippo] would not have survived without its mother?.

Ultimately Caught In The Act isn’t intended to be as dense or revealing as David Attenborough’s unparalleled output. It’s more a case of Pet Rescue meets The Really Wild Show. Neither illuminating nor boring it merely amounts to a desperately average nature programme that cares more about providing life affirming entertainment than any educational value.