LOS ANGELES — Watching a polar bear stalking a doe-eyed seal for a meal tends to put our warm feelings for the bear on ice. But “The Hunt,” a seven-part documentary series from the creators of “Planet Earth,” presents the case for reconsidering predators as the bad guys of the natural world.
That perspective, along with a focus on the gripping drama of the hunt and not the grimness of the kill, makes the series distinctive. It debuts 9 p.m. Sunday on BBC America.
“If you look at the history of predator shows, they tend to be bite-y, bloody things,” said executive producer Alastair Fothergill. “The predators are usually villains, and that’s not only a little bit boring but totally inaccurate. Predators in the natural world are the hardest-working animals in nature and usually fail.”
For example, he contrasts lions with the zebras that are among their plant-eating prey. “If the grass grows, the zebra’s fine. Lions quite often get their jaws smashed by the kicking zebra. It’s much harder for predators to succeed than you would think.”
With the number of kills depicted in “The Hunt” limited to one or two per episode and carefully edited, he said, the show is appropriate for family viewing. (That doesn’t include the body count racked up by the likes of humpback whales or insects; as Fothergill sees it, it’s “fur on fur” violence that generally spurs concern.)
Through its storytelling approach, “The Hunt” attempts to put each predator’s quest in context.
“When you see a cheetah hunting and you realize she has four 8-month-old cubs and they will starve if she doesn’t kill, then you’re with the predator more,” Fothergill said.
Besides the reliably impressive narration of David Attenborough, the documentary series also captures scenes that are extraordinary even in an era of stellar nature documentaries. The same type of stabilized camera and powerful lens used on “Planet Earth” was employed for “The Hunt.”
Just a sampling of the memorable images: the polar bear perched majestically atop a delicate ice outcropping to scan the horizon for prey; rare underwater shots of a blue whale’s seven-minute feast; and wild dogs in hot pursuit of a wildebeest.
The last was tracked by a camera mounted atop a vehicle driving at 40-plus miles per hour alongside the fleeing African antelope, which “makes you feel that you’re another dog running in the pack,” Fothergill said.
The sense of place that dominated “Planet Earth” and “Frozen Planet” is not lost in “The Hunt,” Huw Cordey, who worked on those films and is a producer on “Hunt,” said in a statement. But it was time to focus on animal behavior at its most compelling, he said.
“Undoubtedly, the most dramatic, the most exciting, the most dynamic behavior in the natural world is the relationship between predators and prey,” he said.