One memorable scene captures a bird's-eye view of a polar bear swimming between large chunks of ice in the ocean. "Polar bears spend a lot of time on the sea ice, and I was lucky enough to be flying in a helicopter above this male polar bear. Beautiful image—dark blue sea, broken ice, and this bear was out there," Alastair says.
In order to capture close-up images of polar bears swimming, Alastair says the cameramen had to use extra precautions and special equipment—or they could end up as lunch! "Polar bears can only feed for two or three months of the year, and the rest of the time they're really hungry," he says. "And a nice fat cameraman is a good meal for a polar bear."
Alastair says these beautiful images are even more powerful because of the problems global warming causes for polar bears. Some believe, he says, the animals could be extinct by 2030. "The polar bear … is completely relaxed, but he was in trouble. You know, polar bears don't like to swim. And increasingly, as this polar ice melts, they're having to swim more and more," he says.
One "magic moment" for Jonny was seeing baby grizzly bears emerge from their den for the first time. "The mother's been in the den for six months, and she's given birth to these tiny, tiny cubs, and for the very, very first time, they break out of the den," he says.
Capturing that touching scene took a lot of patience. The team worked with a scientist who knew the locations of several bear dens, so they could approximate where the bears would emerge—it was just a matter of when. "It was really boring for three weeks, and then we had one day which was really, really special," he says.
Jonny also worked on filming millions of snow geese that fly from the southern United States to the high Arctic. When the geese arrive there, Artic foxes are waiting to prey upon them.
After spending time filming in the area, the foxes began to trust the crew. "What's fantastic is to begin with, they run away from you—the foxes—and then over a few weeks, they get really used to you, and they eventually sit at your feet and sleep, and you know then that they really trust you," Jonny says.
During filming in Botswana, Africa, the team caught on tape something that has never before been captured on film—a pride of lions killing an elephant. "It's very rare they take elephants," Alastair says.
At a remote watering hole, massive elephants share precious water with hungry lions. During the day, they are no match for the giant vegetarians. But as night falls, the tables turn. As the lions stalk the herd, older elephants surround their young for protection. One elephant becomes separated, and the entire pack of lions goes after it. The elephant is no match for 30 bloodthirsty lions. They kill the elephant to feed their pack. "It's the most kind of horrific painting of hell when you actually see them on it, 30 lions, just holding down an elephant," Jonny says.
Jonny says infrared lights and special night-vision cameras allowed the crew to film in the pitch-black night. Simply filming the scene was intense, Jonny says. "You can't see anything and the elephants can't see very well, and you're sitting in a vehicle that's completely open," he says. "There were 30 or 40 lions all around the vehicle and they'd brush past your legs. You could feel them."
The documentary team's cutting-edge technology also captured scenes that took place in the blink of an eye.
In one shot, a great white shark is seen attacking a seal. Watch this amazing sequence!
In real time, swallowing its prey would only take a second. Thanks to technology, we're able to see the whole thing in slow motion.
Jonny says the power of nature is a humbling one. "You feel so small in an environment like that, like the Arctic," he says. "And if there's a bear that's coming up to you, a mother bear coming out with her cubs, she could just take you to pieces in a few seconds and she could charge you, and you learn to be very, very small, very humble, and just to be thankful that you're still alive."
Even the nature's most subtle gestures are humbling, he says. When Jonny was documenting snow geese and the foxes that prey on them for weeks in the same place, a mother fox began to trust him so much that she brought her cubs right in front of him. As a parent himself, he was touched by the gesture. "You never, ever, forget the moment when you were there and you saw the animal for the first time trusting you and bringing her cubs out," he says. "I'll never forget that feeling and that emotion that you have. It's fantastic."
Filming this documentary taught Alastair that there is still a beautiful world out there.
"I think 95 percent of us live in cities and there's an enormous wilderness area that most of us never go to," he says. "And I just came away with a real responsibility to make sure that all that was still there for my kids and my kids' kids…and not just on tape, but actually out there in the wild."
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