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4.8 out of 5 stars
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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 18 January 2004
First broadcast way back in 1979, Life on Earth remains the single most impressive achievement in the history of wildlife film-making.
The series offers a broad overview of the whole history of life, beginning with the very earliest cells and leading right up to the appearance of man, using footage of various living plants and animals from around the world to illustrate each major episode in the story. For anyone with an interest in nature, and who would like a good introduction to evolutionary biology that is both stunning and superbly explained, you can do no better than this incredible series.
It is true, as many reviewers have pointed out, that the content of this DVD shows some signs of age. This is inevitable when you remember that it is separated from us by 25 years of filming technology and scientific knowledge. Most noticeable to me is that the colour print is not as rich and vivid as a contemporary film, but then again the clarity of the pictures remains remarkably good with only a few short sequences seriously falling below par when compared with a recent film such as Life of Birds. For example, there are some underwater shots in one of the episodes that can't really hold a candle to the crystal clear material that we're treated to in the Blue Planet. The onwards march of scientific research means that, very occassionally, some of the information in the films might be considered out of date, but this is rare. Finally, there were no computer graphics to speak of 25 years ago and some of the animated sequences that are used in particular to illustrate features of ancient, long extinct lifeforms do look very dated. If the series were to be remade today then it would be augmented with much more sophisticated reconstructions.
However, when all of this is said and done, the two essential elements of this series still never fail to impress. These are the presentation of David Attenborough - always clear, authoritative and compelling - and, of course, the wildlife photography itself.
It is first and foremost to David Attenborough and the BBC that we owe our thanks for the fact that most British people's impression of the natural world about them includes many of the creatures and environments with which we are familiar today. If all we were fed was the kind of cutesy baby animals and crocodile baiting fare of the Disney variety then the effect that this might have had on environmental awareness and charitable giving to green organisations can only be guessed at. And besides, given that the spectacle and drama of the best wildlife films is often far better than most of what you see on TV and down the cinema, we would also have lost a great source of entertainment. Even if this kind of thing were all that the licence fee was spent on, it would still be worth every penny.
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on 30 January 2006
From the very beginning upto the present day. Over the course of 13 programmes covering:
1) "The Infinite Variety" looks back as far as we can possibly go into the fossil record to the earliest single-celled life forms and the explosion of variety once life really got going in the world's oceans.
2) "Building Bodies" focuses on the evolution of animals with segmented bodies (crabs, lobsters, shrimps etc) and shells (scallops, clams etc) and those brave adventurers who eventually left their shells (slugs, squids, octopus etc).
3) "The First Forests" shows how first plant-life and then animal life found its way out of the seas and onto the land and how they solved the problems of supporting themselves and transferring sex cells out of the water.
4) "The Swarming Hordes" sounds like insects (or arthropods in general) and that's what this episode covers. They were a huge success on land and what they lacked in physical size they made up for in numbers - especially the ants and termites.
5) "Conquest of the Waters" is about the development of the back-boned fish that brought about a whole new wave of adaptation to warm and cold habitats, shallow and deep regions, fresh as well as salt water. And it generated some spectacular predators and ways of evading them.
6) "The Invasion of the Land" -- that should be the second invasion of the land. This time it's our ancestors, the back-boned fish, who clamber ashore. Evolution gradually provided them with all the right bits to crawl and breath and successfully reproduce.
7) "Victors of the Dry Land" follows the progress of evolution from the early amphibians to the dry-skinned reptiles who could mate and breed away from water, laying hard-shelled eggs. They gave rise to the dinosaurs and even after the disappearance of those big fellas, the reptiles are still doing quite well.
8) "Lords of the Air" is about birds: how scales evolved into feathers, providing insulation as well as a means of flight - not to mention the opportunity for male birds to show off with spectacular displays of their extravagant plumage and fabulous colours.
9) "The Rise of the Mammals" looks at the small furry, shrew-like creatures that arose while the dinosaurs where still dominating the planet. These humble little animals really came into their own when the dinosaurs became extinct, evolving into all the mammalian forms we know today, including us.
10) "Theme and Variation" considers the relatedness of animals to their ancestral line, for example the bats, the whales and dolphins, the marsupials, the ant-eaters, the primates etc.
11) "The Hunters and the Hunted" examines what happened when climate changed and forests shrank. Animals adapted to life on the open plains. Herds of grazers were stalked by carnivores, 'bloody in tooth and claw'.
12) "Life in the Trees" traces the progress of the small animals with dextrous little hands and forward looking eyes, that took to life in the trees. They evolved into lemurs, monkeys and apes. At some point, some of them came down and found they could make a good living on the ground.
13) "The Compulsive Communicators" is about us. Our ancestors came down from the trees, found their dextrous hands and forward looking eyes jolly useful for making a go of ground-level existence as well. Curiosity, sociability and communication abilities provided all sorts of advantages and led us to what we are today.
And finally, there's a special feature: "Wild Track with Tony Soper". David Attenborough is interviewed by Tony Soper about the making of "Life on Earth".
I watched the Life on Earth series on the television years ago and it made a great impression on me. And now I've watched it again on DVD over the course of a fortnight and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. Yes, it's true that filming technology was less sophisticated when this was made, but it was ground-breaking in its time and David Attenborough's style and presentation is unbeatable. This is still excellent.
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on 4 September 2003
In January 1979, I was 6 years old when the BBC first aired Life on Earth. I was hooked from the first episode and have recorded the series on video from repeats.

After bombarding the BBC for the last 4 years about when the full series was going to be released on DVD, they have finally done it.

This series was ground breaking and sparked my interest in the natural world, which I'm just as keen on today. The footage shot from all over the earth was brilliant and the natural progression of the story of evolution was very informative and interesting. David Attenborough is the greatest communicator of the natural world in television. T

The photography editing and story telling is so good that you could sit through all 13 episodes back to back.

Watch and be amazed at the rich diversity of life this world has to offer.
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VINE VOICEon 27 May 2005
It has not lost any of it charm since it first appeared on TV. Vivid colours and great research behind a benchmark in Natural History programs. Some of the ideas/theories may have changed in th last 20+ years, but in essence, it is still a valuable introduction to Life on Earth
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What can i say, they no longer make tv programmes like this ... The best of all (IMHO) of BBC + david attenboroughs natural history programmes (which is to say the best in the world). I first saw it when it came out and was spellbound, it sparked an interest in nature/biology that has lasted with me until this day ... my degree was in biology. Buy this, watch it, show it your children ... the like of it will never be seen again.
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on 11 October 2007
'Life on Earth' was recognised almost immediately by contemporary TV critics as one of the most intelligent and most absorbing TV series ever made. It's more than just a prelude to Attenborough's later achievements (which were remarkable); it's more than just a great wildlife show; it's television at its very best, offering beautifully crafted visuals in a thoroughly entertaining, informative and coherent context.

The idea of the show was to demonstrate, over the course of the entire series, how life came to evolve on this planet. This is what makes 'Life on Earth' the pinnacle of David Attenborough's career, in that not only is each sequence gorgeously shot and intelligently narrated, but the entire series has a dramatic storyline that none of his future series were able to emulate. The storyline is one of a slow change from simplicity to complexity, and it means that every episode of 'Life on Earth' is not only a self-contained piece of television but also a part of an overall and thoroughly integrated whole.

'The Living Planet' and other shows benefited from improvements in wildlife filmmaking technology, but ultimately they are not as magical and gripping as this show. Attenborough had the good taste not to try to tell the same story twice, and that's why 'Life on Earth' will remain not merely the greatest television wildlife series ever made, but arguably the greatest television documentary series ever made. The only other candidate I can think of is ITV's 'The World At War'.
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on 3 January 2001
Being "young" myself, born in 1973, I was only 6 when the Life On Earth series was being aired. However, I attribute, at least partially, my lifelong desire to learn more about the natural world to this show. I still remember the feeling of being immersed in whatever environment that David Attenborough was describing. The incredible attention to detail and the most amazing motion photography set this series, in my mind, at the forefront of natural documentaries. Quite possibly some of the scenes in this series no longer exist after 30 years of 'progress'.
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on 4 February 2007
To praise adequately this fascinating series is impossible: to call it merely remarkable would be an understatement.

It is a landmark in BBC broadcasting. What is perhaps most remarkable is that it was first transmitted in 1979 and yet seems so fresh and innovative. David Attenborough is a wonderful host with his famously infectious enthusiasm, and a gift for explaining in layman's terms often complicated scientific processes. Although, he is rightly now regarded as a legend, he was initially discouraged from presenting shows as the BBC thought his teeth were too big!

However, the real stars of this series are the animals themselves. It is a sobering thought that many of the wonderful animals filmed have since dramatically decreased in number, or are endangered.

There are many standouts but perhaps the most famous sequence is the episode when Attenborough encounters a family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. This scene, in which Attenborough copies the behaviour of the gorillas to get close, shows rare close ups of the primates and the words are movingly ad libbed.

Our closest relatives, mountain gorillas were already rare when this sequence was filmed. It is not known how many still survive, but is a matter of hundreds, or maybe less. Two gorillas have been killed this month, probably for meat, in Congo. This series is a testimony to how much our world has changed.

The work that went into this is series is astonishing. For example an assistant spent hundreds of hours waiting for the moment when a rare frog gives birth by dropping the young from its mouth. This sequence is included in a rich tapestry of other fascinating set pieces.

In equal measures beautiful and fascinating, I strongly recommend this DVD for anyone with an interest in wildlife: others will equally enjoy it.

NB In case your wondering, the image on the cover of this DVD is of the Panamanian red-eyed tree frog.
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on 24 November 2002
This has to be the most comprehensive visual aid to the evolution of life on earth. This will prove an invaluable aid to students of the biological sciences and to avid amateurs alike. This definitive series is ground breaking in its excellent photography and portrayal of of the species concept. A must for all natural history enthusiasts
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on 10 June 2004
If you only buy one DVD title, I strongly suggest this one.
I would happily describe my grasp of natural history as 'remedial' at best, but this makes the subject accessible for everyone - not telling but showing. That's why it stands today for me as the best overview.
Only rated four stars out of kindness to those who will try to improve upon it - I wish them luck!
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