Written by Daniel Callaghan
At first glance, I thought Dynasties seemed like just another generic wildlife documentary. It looked as though it was just another series that covered the exact same grounds that many other documentaries had done before. There’s the episode with the penguins. There’s the episode about the lions. There’s another hour about chimpanzees. Describing this makes it seem like the most basic documentary in the legendary David Attenborough’s otherwise stellar lineup. Now that I’ve seen all five episodes of Dynasties, is it the cookie-cutter nature show I was initially expecting, or is it actually one of the best nature documentaries I’ve seen in a long time?
It is from David Attenborough after all, so that could help.
Each episode of Dynasties takes a look at an individual animal: David the Chimpanzee, a colony of Emperor Penguins, Charm the African Lion, Tait and Blacktip the Painted Wolves, and Raj Bhera the Bengal Tiger (in that order). The driving force of each animal is to ensure the survival of their next generation, therein their dynasty (for lack of a better word). This is what differentiates this series from other wildlife programmes that have tackled these same species, where the connection between the viewer and animals in question is strengthened through the simple act of anthropomorphism. By doing this, it becomes easier to be more invested in the dramas that unfold within the story as we are able to identify these animals as characters rather than just wild beasts. In describing this, Dynasties showcases these family groups as though they are in a real humanised drama, one that that more closely resembles Game of Thrones than a nature documentary.
I must also give praise to the show that it is not afraid to showcase very harsh visuals and scenarios that amaze and shock. As well as the fact that the series deals with surprisingly thought-provoking themes, it addresses betrayal within family groups. It showcases harrowing moments where individuals are caught in the middle of a tragedy and even alludes to the idea of politics in Chimpanzee and Painted Wolf families. The injuries that are shown (and therefore the blood) are very real, and they are not glossed over. There’s barely a moment where these animals are not shown in what is otherwise a dangerous or dramatic situation, and there’s a very real sense of brutality interwoven throughout each story. Despite not shying away from potentially upsetting material, Dynasties still maintains an uplifting and hopeful undertone throughout each story as we witness each animal attempt to overcome their situation and preserve their legacy. That way, the series does not stay completely depressing and still remains engaging when viewed.
If there was anything to point out and nitpick, it is that Dynasties does veer into territory that has already been shown before. This is not the fault of the series as the fact can’t be helped that there have been so many documentaries that have come before, talking about the same animals. For someone like me who has seen a lot of said programmes, this can be something that is more noticeable than for anyone who’s not as familiar. This is most apparent during the Emperor Penguin episode, where the first half displays the same routine that previous documentaries have addressed: the penguins have their mating ritual, then they have to raise a chick, and the father must stay behind to protect the egg, but the winter is approaching fast, and the females return for their young later on. With that said, each episode makes up for this with material that hasn’t been seen before, or at least I certainly haven’t: jealousy in Emperor Penguins, how Painted Wolves pick their new pack leaders, how African Lions are affected by humans in distressing ways, and more. Even with some slight repeat, Dynasties has chosen the right timeless animals to do this with, so it’s not hard to forgive.
As to be expected, Sir David Attenborough’s narration adds much gravitas to the unfolding stories. Every inflection and line of narration amplifies the show’s dramatic tone, especially with the more harrowing moments. As usual, the cinematography is on point, but this could possibly have some of the best footage I’ve seen in a while. The suitably varied and epic music score by Will Slater and Benji Merrison elevates the emotion in each scene, whether it needs to be an intense moment or a tragic one.
Despite a few occasional repeats from what’s come before it, Dynasties stands tall as one of the most investing and unique nature shows that I’ve ever seen. By adding a new spin on the average animal show formula with prominent anthropomorphism, it creates a dramatic spectacle that’s just as impressive as any season of ‘Insert Famous Drama Here’. For those who are fans of David Attenborough documentaries, just nature shows in general, or even TV dramas, this is one experience that won’t leave you. For a documentary that looked so generic, I couldn’t be happier to say that I was wrong about Dynasties.