This short series of three one-hour programmes is magnificent. It captures a wide variety of wild whales and dolphins in their natural environment and in considerable detail. So many dolphin and whale documentaries show hours of chasing shadows and distant clicks, and then fail to deliver the goods - we end up being shown a far-off flipper or a final fluke.
`Ocean Giants' still includes the inevitable `desperately seeking cetaceans' /sequences, but it pays off in fine style with some of the best close-up footage of marine mammals I have ever seen.
Highlights include seeing humpback whales steamrollering along as the males compete to mate, and watching the comfortable interaction between grey whales and human tourists after centuries when we hunted them, almost to extinction. The footage of bottlenose dolphins admiring their own reflections, and playing with rings of bubbles is delightful, and reinforces just how intelligent these creatures are. It was wonderful to watch a 200-tonne blue whale - the largest animal alive - in action, and to be shown some of the weirder adaptations of these mammals. The series is particularly interesting because although it highlights the well-known species (so we see orca on the hunt, and witness humpbacks hanging weightless while they sing their weird songs), it also includes odder animals like the narwhal with its sword-snout, and the strange, pinkish dolphins of the Amazon river.
Each programme is follows a vague theme, discussing intelligence or communication. But in truth the claims that we can understand what dolphins are saying or might be able to talk to them pales into insignificance next to the sheer beauty of their physical presence; the unbridled delight of a pod of leaping dolphins or the massive magnificence of humpbacks breaching.
Stephen Fry's narration is thoroughly enjoyable, too. Wry and understated; he makes no attempt to steal the show but adds considerably to the quality feel of this series. The only downside to `Ocean Giants' is the amount of time spent filming the camera-crew themselves; the two main cinematographers share quite a lot of the screen time, and often the documentary is as much about them as it is about the animals they are filming. True, they have recorded some extraordinary images... but I would have opted to see even more whales and a few less humans!
But otherwise... wow. Beautiful. Inspiring. A documentary which doesn't shrink from including the brutal bits (killing, fighting, death and possible species decline) which only serves to make the majority of the filming and its subject matter all the more amazing.