The National Park Service turns 100 next summer, and Nat Geo Wild is kicking off the centennial celebration in December with a deep dive into the granddaddy of our federally protected playgrounds: Yellowstone.
Debuting at 8 p.m. (Central) on Sunday, Dec. 6, “Wild Yellowstone” tracks grizzly bears, wolves, beavers, elk, cutthroat trout and other fauna as they fight for survival in the region’s unforgiving (and visually stunning) environs.
I know what you’re thinking: I’ve seen it before. While the subject matter isn’t new, the techniques used to document the drama tell the story — make that show the story — in a fast-paced, fresh light. The result is an immersive experience that feels more contemporary and cutting-edge than traditional nature documentaries. (The “winter” half of “Wild Yellowstone” won best cinematography and best editing at this year’s Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.)
The production team at Wyoming-based Brain Farm took their experience with adventure sports filmmaking (“View from a Blue Moon,” “We Are Blood”) and applied it to the natural-history genre, using state-of-the-art camera stabilization, time-lapse, drones and infrared technologies to create riveting images of both the animals and the landscape, home to more geysers and hot springs than anywhere on Earth.
“From a filmmakers’ standpoint, you have this amazing scenery of fire and ice that keeps transforming,” said executive producer Karen Bass, who worked on the project for nearly two years. “One of the things we did was use time-lapse so you could see how the colors change.”
The two-hour program is divided into summer and winter, with each season posing its own set of challenges.
“Most animals find winter the toughest time to survive,” Bass said. “It’s hard to graze, hard to get away from predators because of the deep snow. What I learnt making the show is that winter is the best time for wolves. It’s their golden opportunity, their season. They were the ideal lead animals to weave the story through the winter episode.”
Come summer, bears are the star of the show.
“When they wake up starving, that’s their golden time,” she added. “We show them hunting elk calves in May and June, before the elk get big enough to out run a bear. Later in the year, they scavenge on carcasses and try to stock up on berries before the long winter. Their lifecycle is so different from the wolves. Yet there they are, the two top megafauna of the park, living in such different ways.”
December 6 also sees the premiere of National Geographic Channel’s eight-part special, “America’s National Parks.” Billed as a series that goes “beyond the lookouts,” the episodes focus on some of the country’s most popular parks, from the depths of the Grand Canyon and the swampy Everglades to the heights of the Smoky Mountains.
Washington State’s Olympic National Park gets things started at 6 p.m. (Central) with an hour-long program devoted to this coastal wilderness. That’s followed by an episode devoted to Yosemite. The other half dozen installments will air next year.
If you’ve been keeping count, that’s four hours of national parks programming on Dec. 6. And that should be more than enough inspiration to get you off of the couch and into one of these national treasures during the 2016 centennial.