'The Hunt' shows that in nature documentaries, not all prey is created equal

Watch a sneak peek of 'The Hunt'
Watch a sneak peek of 'The Hunt'

Amid what has become a golden age for nature documentaries, "The Hunt" reminds us that when it comes to unflinching views of the animal world, not all prey is created equal.

Already a success in the U.K., this seven-part documentary marks a first foray into natural history from BBC America, delivering the expected jaw-dropping footage of animals in the wild. In this case, the producers focus on the delicate dance between predators and prey, reminding viewers that most attempts are unsuccessful.

What's especially interesting, though, is when the producers choose to cut away. When a polar bear sneaks up on an adorable baby seal, for example, the outcome is left to the audience's imagination -- unlike some of the less-cuddly forms that get devoured.

Executive producer Alastair Fothergill ("Frozen Planet") concedes that there's a rather delicate art to deciding what to present without, as he put it, sanitizing nature.

"There is no doubt that we are emotionally much more engaged in fluffy bunnies and birds," he said.

"We know there's part of the audience that will say, 'I don't like watching animals kill each other.' Why lose the audience, when they know once the bear gets the seal, it's going to eat it?"

The filmmakers have clearly sought to bring drama to these episodes, fostering considerable suspense about who escapes, or doesn't.

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At the same time, the project (narrated by 90-year-old naturalist Sir David Attenborough) also evokes sympathy for predators, whose lives hang in the balance if they can't find prey.

"Very often predators get a bad rap," Fothergill said. "We wanted to do a series that dispelled that."

Predators often seek out the easiest target they can find, which tends to involve the young or infirm. In "The Hunt," that includes orcas seeking to separate and drown a humpback whale calf, crocodiles ambushing prey at the watering hole and Arctic wolves chasing down, yes, fluffy hares.

That's just a small part of the hunting scenarios depicted on land, sea and air. But "The Hunt" is clearly more graphic when dealing with creatures that don't make good plush toys -- like crabs, with an octopus shimmying across tide-pool rocks to snatch them; or insects being gobbled by a praying mantis.w

Across TV, there's certainly a lot of predation going on. Discovery Channel has turned "Shark Week" into an annual feast, and Smithsonian Channel joins in during July with "Wild Wednesday," devoted to the likes of hammerhead sharks, Komodo dragons and lethal vipers.

Regarding "The Hunt," Fothergill stressed that any allowances made for the squeamish don't compromise the storytelling, which ultimately resides in the struggle for survival, not the meal that follows.

"The drama is the chase," he said. "When they kill, the story is over."

"The Hunt" premieres July 3 on BBC America.

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