“There’s life here, but not as we know it”
Last night I inadvertently repeated my folly but by watching something far more wholesome.
David Attenborough is back on British screens with Blue Planet II at the moment. The series is currently only two episodes in and with all the usual glorious footage and sound design of the natural world that people have come to expect from the last decade or so of big-budget BBC productions.
The second episode of the series was extra special though. Surely a highlight of every series, the episodes exploring the deepest waters on our planet never disappoint with footage of strange things from below.
This episode takes us on an epic journey into the unknown, a realm that feels almost like science fiction. We discover alien worlds, bizarre creatures and extraordinary new behaviours never seen before.
“The Deep” is explicit in its SF references as the BBC team explores the deepest oceans around Antarctica, “more difficult to explore than outer space”. It is one hour of horrifying and beautiful nautogothic textures. With the sound off, much of its feels like an extended opening sequence to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Also, if it weren’t for David Attenborough’s calm grandfatherly voice, his narrations and descriptions of some of the creatures down there could be mistaken for Lovecraftian prose.
Alongside all the usual deep-water cephalopods, there were creatures like the barreleye – “a fish with a transparent head filled with jelly so it can look up through its skull” – and, my personal favourite, the Siphonophores (see header image):
Down here, in this blackness, creatures live beyond the normal rules of time. Siphonorores are virtually eternal. They repeatedly clone themselves – some eventually growing longer than a blue whale.
Later, a sequence showing eels diving into an underwater lake of concentrated salt water that sits, paradoxically, at the bottom of the ocean is more than a little sinister. Disembodied tentacles from beyond diving in and out of a poison void within a void. “Spending too long in it can send an eel into toxic shock”, Attenborough narrates, as an eel convulses, tying itself in uncontrollable knots. “Others are not so lucky.” We see a squid floating on the surface of the underwater lake. “The brine embalms their bodies and the casualties of decades accumulate around the margins.”
Having just watched From Beyond on n1x’s recommendation, I couldn’t get their recent post, “the aphotic insurrection“, out of my head.
…it has been said that the Wired is 水, or sui. Ocean and water. The extraterrestrial, which resists stability. It is a largely three-dimensional space, chaotic and impossible to territorialize (nothing that dwells in 水 is ever fully at rest). Very few of 水 is hospitable to any forms of agency. Most of 水 is blanketed in an endless cavelike night. And yet at the greatest, most hostile depths — where cave and mantle meet — is where 水 is richest in nutrients. Here, only automaton-like worms survive.
Here are a few more of my favourite frames from the episode, along with some choice bits of narration. Can someone make an Archillect-style bot for this stuff?
Down here, it snows. Continuous clouds of organic debris drift slowly down from above.
Some of the whale’s teeth have been dislodged as the skeleton starts to fall apart. Four months later, there is nothing left but a few bones. But even they are food… for something.