The Daily Stream: Fantastic Fungi Is The Netflix Film That Says 'Look Down'

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Fantastic Fungi"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: You know how "Star Trek: Discovery" season 1 was based around the concept of faster-than-light travel via the power of space mushrooms? Well if you didn't, you do now. I fell off "Star Trek: Discovery" after a couple of seasons due to our present-day curse of Too Much Content, but I loved that idea of science fiction being based around something so humble and down-to-earth as fungi.

Anthony Rapp's character in "Discovery," Paul Stamets, was inspired by a real-life mycologist (also called Paul Stamets). Rather than approaching the world of fungi from an academic standpoint, Stamets is described in "Fantastic Fungi" as an "amateur naturalist." He studied mycology as part of his bachelor's degree, but beyond that most of what he has learned about fungi — from mushrooms to mold to the mysterious mycelial network — has been garnered from simply wandering into the woods and looking down at the world by his feet.

"Fantastic Fungi" isn't about Paul Stamets, though he appears prominently in it. It features insight from a range of experts who all have one thing in common: an utterly contagious enthusiasm for the trippy wonders of a world that most of us will spend our lives ignoring.

Why it's essential viewing

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.