History Channel // 2009 // 470 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // November 28th, 2009
Welcome to Earth. Population Zero.
In humankind's relatively brief stint on planet earth, it has fought wars, cured diseases, created innumerable monuments and edifices, birthed scores of memorable (and more than a few not-so-memorable) works of art, and much more. So of everything humans have wrought, what will survive once the last Homo sapiens have shuffled off this mortal coil?
The answer? Not a whole heck of a lot, according to the History Channel's series Life After People. Based on a 2008 feature-length special of the same name, Life After People examines what might happen to a world in which humans are not in the picture. Each of season one's 10 episodes speculates on the fate of cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas as well as structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument. Episodes are structured by time benchmarks; 1 day after people, 1 month, 45 years, etc. Interviews with experts tell us what can be expected to happen in the absence of people, while CGI animation provides a cruder illustration of these predictions.
I haven't seen the special that prompted the creation of this series, but from watching these episodes, I get the sense that Life After People might work better as a one-off presentation. Although with Earth as its subject matter, there's certainly no shortage of topics for the show to cover, Life After People is rather wearisome at times. I blame this mainly on the way the shows are presented. As this was a History Channel production and not a Roland Emmerich movie, I didn't go into this expecting pricey visual effects, but the show's CGI is still tough to take after a while.
But the low-rent CGI is trumped by the show's annoying and frequently silly voiceover narration: "Within 1 year after people, the natural world is rapidly taking over the city streets. Soon, it will set off a chain of devastating events that will turn our greatest cities into CAPITALS OF DESTRUCTION." (emphasis added)
Still, I have to give credit to the show's creative team for its wide variety of subject matter. In the season's first episode, "The Bodies Left Behind," topics include newly free domestic parrots, Lenin's corpse, Boston's John Hancock Tower, and the International Space Station. The expert testimony also goes a long way toward bolstering the show's credibility.
The best part about Life After People, however, is when the show trains its focus on areas that have already been abandoned by humans, like Japan's Hashima Island and New York's North Brother Island. It's rather telling that the show's most captivating and powerful images are not those of CGI vegetation on the USS Missouri or Denver's Wells Fargo Center falling in on itself but instead real-life rotted apartments and decaying toys. I almost think the show might have worked better if it had discarded its speculative portions entirely. (There are surely enough abandoned places on Earth to fill the episodes.) Gone would be the spectacle of collapsing buildings and overgrown metropolises, but the educational value of the show would be greatly enhanced. Such a move would also underscore the haunting theme of the show; that is, for all humankind's bluster and sense of accomplishment, we're little more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to Earth's existence, and our legacy will be swiftly erased once we're gone.
History Channel presents Life After People: The Complete Season One in a 3-DVD set. The sound and image quality are what you would expect from something that was recently broadcast on television; I have no complaints, although I will note that there are no subtitles. You won't find any extras in this set, either.
If you're a disaster movie junkie looking for a quick fix, you're likely to get a kick out of Life After People: The Complete Season One. But what novelties and potentially hefty thematic weight the show offers are soon drowned out in a cacophony of CGI and absurdly over-the-top voiceover narration. Worth a rental for the curious, but I certainly wouldn't recommend a purchase here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 470 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated