Impressive new technology powers Apple TV+’s new series, but it may be wasted on the seemingly intended audience.
Technological advances in cameras now allow for filming at night. The images returned are not just visible but read as filmed in the bright of day. So the opening credits tell us before every episode of Earth at Night in Color. And don’t worry if you somehow miss that proclamation, narrator Tom Hiddleston will reiterate it at least once an episode.
While the constant drumbeat of “We got a new toy!” does get repetitive and, at points, irritating, one can hardly blame the Earth at Night team. The cameras, after all, are what set it apart from many other nature documentaries. In a crowded marketplace, you have to trumpet the thing that makes you unique. Still, a reminder or two less would’ve been appreciated.
The other reason you can’t blame the Earth at Night team for being excited is how impressive the effects are. While one can note the stars above, the cameras are effective enough to make the animals’ nocturnal adventures look like they unfolded around noon. If you dropped someone in front of any given episode with no preamble and excised the technology huzzahs, it seems unlikely they’d realize they were actually watching footage shot at night.
In some ways this strength, however, becomes a detriment. Or, at least, a non-factor. With the tech being so incredible, it becomes easy to lose a sense of how groundbreaking the footage truly is. When a camera can so effectively turn night into day, one can become rapidly unaware of those results. It is paradoxical; without the cameras and the impressive technology, this docuseries could not exist. With the cameras, though, its achievements are so seamless, it is easy to just process them as just more animal footage.
Therefore, the story the episodes set out to tell must do more than just let the cameras shine. On this score, Earth at Night proves fitfully successful. Each installment’s tight running times—no installment lasts more than 29 minutes—certainly help. Similarly, the show’s globetrotting, taking fans from the grasslands of Africa to the rainforests of South America, to cities around the world, and more prove invaluable to holding the casual viewers’ attention.
Once again, though, a strength of the series for many can be a weakness for others. For those who hunger for deep dives into the animals captured on film, Earth at Night is unlikely to satisfy. Each episode does tend to revolve around a single animal or group—a lion pride in the first episode, peregrine falcons in episode 5, and so on. Still, the brief episode length and the small diversions to check out other animals all lead to a rather shallow affair. Think of it less as a 400-level course and more as a survey class.
If you dropped someone in front of any given episode with no preamble and excised the technology huzzahs, it seems unlikely they’d realize they were actually watching footage shot at night.
As a result, those with less knowledge of the animals will be more likely to connect with Earth at Night. However, they may lack the context to appreciate what new opportunities this ability to capture nocturnal footage gives scientists and nature enthusiasts. Those with more knowledge, on the other hand, will likely find themselves frustrated with the series lack of depth even as they’re in a far better position to understand how innovative the technology is.
And so it is over and over with Earth at Night in Color. Those the show seems most aimed at are the least likely to recognize how this new hardware made the docuseries come to be. Those that are most likely to recognize the big step forward are least likely to feel their attentions served by how the series deploy those cameras.
Earth at Night in Color roars in the darkness beginning December 4th on AppleTV+.