Attraction Review: BBC Earth Experience

Immersive experiences have hit London by storm. The new kid on the block is BBC Earth Experience. The London Mums’ team went to  the premiere to check it out first hand.

BBC earth experience room

 

The Tech

The tech must have been an enormous challenge, and thus a triumph. Mimicking the immersive experiences of Van Gogh and Hockney, this is surround-sound-surround-vision. The 4 HUGE screens and other shard-like screens were impressive in this vast darkened void of a building. They were all showing not identical images, but, for example, the same orangutan family, with different members, at different times, doing different things, from different angles, simultaneously. The effect is to feel up close, right in the branches eating next to them, with high quality recordings of the noises of nature.

BBC Earth experience collage showing the London mums magazine reporters

 

The footage

We were soaring over snowy peaks one minute, or swimming with manatee pods the next. How on earth do you condense our Earth into one hour-long show? As it was, there was a taster of animals from the five continents, in no particular order. If you missed Attenborough’s somniferous drone, you had no idea where you were.

It threw up a question or two: firstly, who is the target audience? The elderly will find very limited seating and it may be too dark. Couples would not find it romantic as there are no secretive corners to hide in and there are some kill-shots. Children loved the space to run in, and the interactive bubble screens, but without poofs or crash mats, they rolled on the floor and soon got tired of just looking around. With a cost of £26 p/p it will exclude many families, especially since they can get comparable images on their ipads.

And secondly, can it be called an experience? I associate the word ‘experience’ with something physically interactive, so watching a film or TV would not be an experience. This ‘Earth experience’ was similarly passive, and I would go so far as to say, Victorian in its concept. The fact that they asked David Attenborough for the voice over, when there are other much more lively presenters around, just made things feel even more old-fashioned. As a teacher,  I felt all the emphasis was all on the tekky obstacles the BBC team had overcome and very little time was spent considering what the visitors would actually DO, other than stand and watch. I imagine no teacher or educationalist was consulted in the making of this venue.

How could it be made more exciting?

To make it a real experience, children today expect push-pull.  Imagine that parts of the floor coordinated with the walls, so a child could pretend to be balancing along branches during the jungle scenes, or to ride manatees as they swim around under their feet. Parts could be pressure sensitive, so during the firefly sequence, lily-pads could light up when stepped on. Another part of the space could be inspired from an out-door playground, with large squidgy revolving saucers for 20-30 children to lounge in while taking in all the wall show. More comfortable seating for tired parents and grandparents would also be very welcome. I can be contacted at… 🙂

 

After-thought

BBC Earth Experience is like a mausoleum to David Attenborough, but I wondered, if he had been given a choice of how to spend whatever millions it cost, would he have gone for this, or a donation to some reforestation charity which would have actually helped the orangutan family to live a bit longer.

 

A dad’s perspective

Another of our contributors, Lawrie Lowe, one of the dads in the London Mums’ network, had this to say:

First things first

BBC Earth Experience? What a lovely concept – an opportunity to see our earth in all its glory – not only looking at its natural beauty but also an insight into all that is living on our planet, on huge screens configured in different shapes and sizes all around you, with superb sounds and music to compliment the state of the art footage, which is of the highest standard (as you would expect from the BBC).

Surely this is an experience that each one of us should be excited about, spending our free time enjoying an immersive experience within the purpose built (environmentally-friendly) Daiken Centre in Earl’s Court.

Before you spend your hard earned cash on a visit – it is likely that you will spend a few moments on the BBC Earth Experience website and have a good idea what you will be enjoying – the key message that I picked up from reading the information provided was ‘The BBC Earth Experience aims to inspire our visitors to protect the planet through spectacular footage and an immersive experience.’

So, does it achieve its own objectives?

Sadly, I do not think it works as the dream concept.  So much is right about this experience, but the legacy and inspiration are lost – who is the message aimed at? If the target audience is the child or teenager who will become our future leaders in industry and political choices, then the opportunity is missed. How is it missed? Surely the inspirational voice and words of Sir Richard Attenborough should be sufficient. Well yes, for my generation of 50 or so year olds, but his voice became lost in the atmosphere of the venue and the only clear message he gives us is a passing gift by the exit, which was pretty much… wake up and make changes or you will lose what you have just witnessed.

I think the experience needed a more vibrant and excited voice, and there was a key example standing in front of us at this preview event: Steve Backshall, I feel would have been a more inspired choice of voiceover to catch the attention of the younger viewer and still hold his own with the older members of the viewing public like myself. Maybe adding a few words of wisdom around what we, the public, can do to change the mindset of a world happy to destroy all the beauty around us.

What was going to give the visitor that added extra that cannot be produced in the comfort of their own home?

Yes, there were a couple of fun screens that interacted with the visitor, also an unexciting insect area that was pumped up in the intro to be scary but baffled the young and old observers instead. There was a lovely gift shop with some inventive gifts with beautiful prints of images that had been viewed earlier, but like the ticket prices, quite expensive. When you are looking at a hundred and four pounds for two adults and two children for an experience that lasts for an hour, they may be losing the opportunity to see the target audience make this their priority event.

The venue had few seating opportunities for parents to relax and watch their children enjoy the images and sounds, not forgetting the less able of us who enjoy walking around but appreciate the odd moment of rest. There needed to be more things going on around you, even below you. The images were everywhere, but you know that attention spans are linked with expectations in this day of technology, and there needed to be a few more surprises. I heard a couple mentioning seating like bean bags or cushions etc which might give a different viewing perspective?

Seven continents are covered during this hour but unless you were able to hear the introduction of each one, you could easily find each continent lost within each other – that is not really a big issue, but listening to other visitors, there seemed to have been an expectation of walking from one into the next.

I have been harsh, concerning something that has a huge amount of love and attention put into its making, but it needed a couple more segments of inspired visual options available. As for the learning experience? I may have missed a trick, as if you look on the website, I believe a school trip could answer a few of the questions I have asked, as each booking includes access to an indoor classroom space, with dedicated toilets nearby. Even though the experience is still self-guided, the students are given curriculum-based activity booklets which can be completed either on site or back in their own classroom. The resources are curriculum linked and include teacher guides for each key stage booklet. I need to go back to school.

Rating 6/10

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