Classic natural history films engage viewers in the beauty, wonders and science of our planet through extraordinary cinematography, symphonic music, amplified sound design, and fascinating factual information about flora and fauna. This combination creates a profound sense of awe, that can stimulate a visceral, long-lasting connection to the natural world. Studies reveal that awe can also make us feel more connected with each other, and that viewing nature films can generate prosocial tendencies, such as increased generosity.
The blue-chip nature documentary Nómadas (2020) (see Case Study) takes viewers on a breathtaking journey of animal migration across Mexico. Using sweeping drone shots and poignant close-ups, the high-quality images capture the immense beauty of protected natural areas and the wildlife within them. Director Emiliano Ruprah emphasizes visual storytelling to engage audiences in Mexico’s rich biodiversity and the value of migrating species. At the film’s end, when the audience is fully immersed and awestruck, the film delivers a hard-hitting message about the alarming decline of species.
Only recently have classic nature films begun to break the wonderland wall to expose the devastating effects of our climate crisis. The final episode of David Attenborough’s Our Planet (2019), for example, shows shocking footage of walruses falling to their deaths due to receding ice habitats. Okavango – River of Dreams and The Elephant Queen use awe-inspiring cinematic techniques to immerse audiences in the wild, where we suffer the consequences of global warming alongside the animals. Interestingly, recent research reveals that awe’s ability to make us feel more interconnected may have “helped ensure our ancestors’ survival…”. Perhaps awe-inspiring media can help ensure our survival today as well.