Discovery Channel // 2009 // 440 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // June 3rd, 2010
Extraordinary animals and extreme behavior on every continent and in every habitat.
Building on the techniques and technologies used to film Planet Earth three years earlier, Life was in development for more than four years and involved 150 shoots on all seven continents. Originally airing between October and December 2009, Life was part of something BBC called their "Darwin Season." Shot exclusively in HD, the series lasted for just ten 50-minute episodes; all included on this release, spread over four discs as follows:
* "Challenges of Life"
* "Reptiles and Amphibians"
* "Hunters and Hunted"
* "Creatures of the Deep"
It's a testament to the diversity and nearly infinite scope of our planet and its wildlife that, despite the likely millions of hours of nature footage that has been shot over the decades, a new project like Life can reveal so many new and astounding animal behaviors and natural wonders. BBC really reigns supreme when it comes to their skill at mounting the massive undertakings that have resulted in the stunning nature documentary series they have produced in the last decade. From hunting and survival behavior, to mating, migration, and a whole host of other animal behaviors; each episode of Life is packed full of stunning footage, much of which involves content that has never been captured on film before.
Each episode is composed of short segments that examine a new species and behavior, occurring in an entirely new habitat and possibly on an entirely different continent. Not only does the series capture footage from all seven continents, but there isn't a single habitat that isn't visited at least once. Perhaps most impressive is the wide range of footage, from minutely detailed close-ups to helicopter shots from hundreds of feet in the air, delivering a visual feast that is never short of awe-inspiring. If you're considering the series for purchase, Blu-ray would be your best bet, since the series was shot in HD, but the SD version does an admirable job, remaining clear and sharp throughout. I was only left wondering just how much more vibrant the presentation will look in the HD realm.
As soon as the opening credit sequence appears, there's something about the soundtrack that captures the imagination and doesn't let go. Composer George Fenton, known for his soundtrack work on diverse films like Groundhog Day, Shadowlands and Ever After, and previous BBC projects The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, lends his considerable skill and versatility to Life. Never anchored by one music style or genre, Fenton adapts to the footage throughout the series, conveying intense emotions and drama, mystery, humor or even creating a minimalist music bed that allows the footage to speak for itself. As powerful as the footage is throughout Life, Fenton's music raises it to a higher level and soundtrack fans will be delighted to learn there is a music-only option throughout the series, providing a respite from the narration. The surround channels are exercised, not only by the music, but also by the considerable atmospheric sounds that lovingly blanket each episode, adding to the immersive effect of the whole experience.
One of the real head-scratchers about Life is the fundamental difference between the U.K. and U.S. DVD releases. The U.K. version features broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough as its narrator, lending his unique and powerful voice and obvious love of the natural wonders of our planet to the production, as he did for the previous BBC documentaries The Blue Planet and Planet Earth. For whatever reason, possibly it was due to familiarity with U.S. audiences, the U.S. release features narration by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. Granted, I may be trivializing her choice as a narrator, given the fact that she has now hosted her own show for an impressive 24 seasons. I just find it a bit silly that a knighted naturalist was deemed an inappropriate choice for American viewing audiences. As I was preparing for this review, I was able to compare the two different narration tracks and it's worth noting that while Attenborough's narration is authoritative and informative, with just the right amount of whimsy when appropriate, Winfrey's track just doesn't measure up, whether due to her lack of narration experience or some other factor. If you have the option, go for the U.K. release, as Attenborough's track is noticeably better overall. Another unexplained difference between the two versions is that there are some changes in the order of the footage when the U.K. and U.S. versions are compared side by side.
On the extra features front, Life includes seven short deleted scenes that really add very little to the overall flow of the episodes they were cut from and considering the likelihood that there are thousands of hours of footage that didn't make the final cut, these are a tiny drop in a cosmically huge bucket. Clocking in at 40 minutes, "The Making of Life" expands the content of the series dramatically, showing the great lengths and effort that went into capturing some of the series' most amazing sequences on film. Though not included with this release, a hardcover book was also created as a companion to the series, likely adding additional information and images to an already impressive endeavor.
There's no simpler way of stating it: the BBC has done it again, raising the bar even higher for nature documentaries. Whether you're a nature lover or not, Life is must-see viewing that tells amazing stories about the world around us, while revealing some of the most dramatic nature footage you've likely ever seen.
Review content copyright © 2010 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 440 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Muted Narration
* Official Site