NEW YORK -- There's a new nature documentary series that promises to show viewers incredible animal behavior in vibrant clarity. Heard that all before? Well, this one is on steroids.
"Super/Natural," a six-part series from National Geographic now streaming on Disney+, has tapped "Avatar" creator James Cameron as executive producer, and he's added special effects on top of leading-edge filmmaking technology.
The effects sometimes morph the animals into something like stars in a Marvel movie, with their bellows distorting the air, lumbering attacks that cause shock waves in sand or pheromones from an insect rendered as bursting noxious clouds. Even trees light up when sugars move through their roots.
"We're not actually falsifying or turning it into a superhero movie. We're giving an access portal for our limited senses into a natural world that goes far, far beyond anything that we can sense directly," Cameron told reporters recently.
The episodes are arranged by theme -- eat or be eaten, the mating game and bloodlines are some of the topics -- and viewers get a visual treat as cameras capture everything from fireflies in Mexico producing a synchronized light show to bottlenose dolphins teaming up with Brazilian fishermen to catch mullet.
Videographers armed with the latest science data underwent 80 animal shoots in 25 countries to create the series, using such high-tech gear as high-speed cameras and drones. Cameron listed what they tried to capture -- infrasound, ultrasound, ultraviolet and infrared, among them.
"What's our purpose in this? Not just to entertain, but absolutely to teach and to show the wonder, the majesty, the complexity, of nature," said Cameron. "We're going to pull out every trick we know as entertainers, as storytellers, to try to get that engagement."
So unlike a traditional nature documentary where adding effects is a strict non-no, "Super/Natural" allows us to feel what bat sonar might look like, see what a bumblebee sees or how bears communicate with invisible clues.
"The bear can smell pheromones, but we can't see it. It's a visual medium; it's not a smell medium," he said. "It is real. It's just that we can't see it. So we have to use the effects to see as they see or to smell as they smell."
The series is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is lively, sly and delicious in his descriptions. "The female of the species is into some pretty freaky stuff," he says of vampire spiders. Of cicadas popping out after 17 years underground, he drily adds: "America's biggest speed dating event is about to begin."
Cameron, an ardent environmentalist and vegan, sees "Super/Natural" as a logical extension of his latest filmmaking, which includes the upcoming fantasy "Avatar: The Way of Water." In both, he hopes to reawaken a sense of wonder for the natural world.
"The natural history stuff is not just a side gig to making 'Avatar' movies. To me, they go together perfectly as something that's equally exciting to me," he said. "It always awakens in me this sense of amazement at how complex nature is."