'Africa' review: BBC/Discovery offer rare glimpse of the continent

"Africa," a sweeping BBC/Discovery seven-part documentary that promises

"Africa," a sweeping BBC/Discovery seven-part documentary that promises a "never seen before" look at the continent, premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the Discovery Channel. (Credit: Discovery Channel/BBC)

THE DOCUMENTARY "Africa"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 10 on Discovery

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "You think you know this continent? Think again!" And there -- as both promise and boast -- are the opening words to this seven-part series on Africa, a co-production of Discovery and the BBC's legendary natural history unit, filmed across 27 countries with a total of 21 different types of camera. Tuesday night's hour opens in the Kalahari and the Namib -- a world of sand stretching east from the Atlantic, and home to a vast assemblage of fauna, if not quite flora. In its bone-parched expanses live a type of spider that rolls down sand dunes, 3-inch-long crickets that eat bird hatchlings, and an underground lake of fossil water inhabited by blind catfish. Forest Whitaker narrates.


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MY SAY From the folks who brought you 2009's "Life" -- another modest little subject -- now comes "Africa," about a continent not exactly begging for attention from nature documentary filmmakers the past half century or so. What more is there to see?

Ah, the small-mindedness of that question: "Africa" convincingly, emphatically, establishes that you ain't seen nothing yet. Based on the first hour (all that was sent out for review), this really does promise a magical mystery tour of a world we thought was familiar but instead is alien, mysterious and even numinous (watch a herd of black rhinos perform an elaborate mating ritual in starlight, and think otherwise).

As with many of these Discovery/BBC triumphs, much of "Africa's" success is due to patience -- these things take years to produce -- and some to technology. A very special type of camera, you will be told, was used to capture those rhinos in love. Whitaker is another good addition here as well, offering touches of whimsy and wit.

BOTTOM LINE If the first hour is representative -- probably is -- another winner.

GRADE A

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