Three years ago the natural history team at Apple TV+ recruited Paul Rudd to narrate Tiny World, following some of the tiniest little marvels scurrying, swimming and flying in their unbelievably tiny, clever ways about the earth. The creatures were also some of the most unavoidably cute – pygmy marmosets, Cuban bee hummingbirds, harvest mice! Come to me!
Now it is the turn of the giants. Big Beasts is narrated by Tom Hiddleston and follows some of the largest creatures the Apple team could find. The photography is as amazing as before – Hiddleston is as awed as Rudd and the enormous birds, mighty mammals and extraordinary aquatic lifeforms are as magnificent as the previous series’ stars were adorable.
Each episode concentrates on one particular creature for its main narrative and introduces us to neighbouring characters as we go. In an opening episode, a grey whale and her calf make a 5,000-mile journey from Mexico into the herring-filled waters of the Arctic so she can feed after months of starvation. We also meet an absolute humdinger of a cephalopod, a pod of orcas and even, briefly, a blue whale, the biggest of them all. Despite the grey whale’s top billing, and the enduring magnificence of the blue whale – how can the sight of that giant jaw opening to swallow 200-odd metric tons of krill-filled water fail to take your breath away? – it is the giant Pacific octopus that steals the show. All 17ft and 100 pregnant pounds of her disappear into a cave via a letterbox-sized gap, and an arm reaches out to a nearby rock to close it up behind her. Once safely tucked in, she spends four weeks decorating the place with 100,000 teardrop-shaped eggs that hang from the ceiling like white wisteria blossom, and the next seven months keeping them clean and pulsing oxygenated water over them. As they hatch, each a thousandth of the size of their mother, she dies.
In later episodes, we watch bull elephant seals (the ones with drinkers’ noses) battle and batter each other for supremacy on the beaches, a family of giant river otters (who still manage to be cute, even though they snack on piranhas and band together to see off a jaguar who has taken a predatory notion) and a giant anteater who has an impressively imperturbable air for a creature required to run a proboscis along the ground, snuffling up small morsels of protein for large daily portions. Polar bears, Greenland sharks and giant walruses (giving bull elephant seals a challenge in the “Think you’re ungainly on land, fella? Watch this!” stakes) make an appearance, and so too in the 10-episode series do gorillas, orangutans, ostriches, hippos, brown bears, giraffes, capybaras (more drinkers’ noses) and tigers. Oh, the tigers. There may be literally nothing more compelling on Earth than these softly padding, amber-coated, streamlined chunks of muscle. They are mesmerising in their power and beauty. And yet, they still make me think of Esso. Thank you, ad men. Thank you, capitalism, for some good things among the rubbish.
Apple’s team doesn’t have David Attenborough, the BBC’s gravitas or command of detail. But it does a fine job of making you gaze in renewed awe at the treasures of the world. No small thing.