Strange Days on Planet Earth is a recent example of producer and writer John Rubin’s extraordinary documentary production abilities. The first episode of this series, “Invaders,” explores the current state of invasive species throughout the world. In the hour long episode host and narrator Edward Norton follows experienced researchers as they investigate invasive species that range from Formosen Subterranean termites in New Orleans to Water Hyacinth that wreak havoc in Uganda. “Invaders” is effective in portraying the scope and range of the invasive species problem in a compelling manner.
This episode of Strange Days on Planet Earth begins with dramatic music composed by three time Emmy nominee Sheldon Mirow. The modern music and a playful mystery theme give the documentary an unusual light hearted tone. This tone contrasts to the sobering facts about invasive species- in the United States alone 35-43% of endangered species are effected by invasives (pbs.org).
The first discussed invasions are of aquatic invaders in the San Francisco Bay. These are introduced alongside marine ecologist Jim Carlton, who is researching aquatic species in New England through a series of rapid inspections. The second invasive species to be discussed, Formosan subterranean termites, is introduced with a humorous scene of a piano falling through a rotted and termite infested wooden floor. John Rubin then continues to describe the havoc termites wreak in New Orleans, and the solution used by researcher Claudia Reigal to control the damaging insects.
The episode goes on to describe multiple other sites of species invasion and the tactics researchers and citizens alike are taking to eradicate the pests. At Lake Victoria the episode takes a personal twist as it explores the damaging effects Water Hyacinth has on residents, including increased rates of dysentery and shistomaisis. Here the documentary focuses on Ugandan researcher James Ogwang and his extensive efforts to remove Water Hyacinth from Lake Victoria.
In “Invaders” John Rubin manages to make the threat of invasive species relevant and comprehensible. The documentary episode covers the reason for recent surge in spread of invasive species and the three basic ways in which invasive species can be dealt with: mechanical, biological and chemical treatments. Emphasis is placed on the responsibility of the community and the individual to prevent and manage species invasions with mention to honorable groups such as the “Weed Warriors” who fight against Ice Plant invasion in their own community. This episode presents the invasive species threat in an engaging manner which makes the information accessible and relevant.