Let’s face it: the world is a noisy, stressful place full of bad news, and a lot of streaming entertainment reflects that. Nature documentaries like “Our Planet” offer something of an escape from our daily lives, as intrepid camera crews venture deep into uncultivated lands to capture stunning footage of birds of paradise doing silly yet impressively elaborate mating dances. It’s a soothing reminder that in hidden pockets of the planet, far away from human nonsense, other forms of life are engaging in daily nonsense of their own.
As “Fantastic Fungi” points out, fungi are starkly different from most plant and animal life in that they are designed, from an evolutionary standpoint, not to be noticed. The bulk of these organisms are hidden below the ground, quietly communicating beneath the earth in their own version of the world wide web. The only time we really notice them is when they’re an unwelcome topping on pizza, or a grim grey fuzz growing on fruit that’s been left in the fruit bowl for too long. As nature’s busy recycling machines, they’re associated with death and decay. And because we usually don’t think of fungi as a particularly interesting topic, the 80-minute documentary is uniquely positioned to expand your mind.
Gently paced through different areas of fungal focus and dotted with wonderful little revelations (did you know that a mother tree can make contact with its offspring via the mycelial network, and even share water and nutrients? Or that mushroom spores can be used to clean up oil spills by converting the oil into mushroom food?), “Fantastic Fungi” is oddly comforting viewing with an emphasis on “odd.” Fungi, we’re told, were there at the very start of life on our planet, and they’ll be there to greet you when you die. When impact events wiped out the dinosaurs, fungi inherited the earth. Arguably, their reign never ended; humans simply came to think of themselves as the apex species because we weren’t paying attention to the world beneath our feet.
Featuring incredible time lapse photography of all sorts of weird and wonderful mushrooms, not to mention an amazing animation of early hominids getting high on psilocybin mushrooms plucked from animal dung, “Fantastic Fungi” is a treat that your brain deserves.