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4.8 out of 5 stars54
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 17 September 2005
There are four episodes, each a delight:
1) "Magic in the Rocks", looks at the types of rocks where fossils can be found, from limestone, mudstone and sandstone to coal and amber. We travel from the Dorset coast to a quarry in Leicestershire then across the world to the Dominican Republic and Arizona and back to Glasgow and Edinburgh. We visit mines, petrified forests and swamps and laboratories where fossils are being extracted from their stony matrix, X rayed, cat scanned and manipulated in 3D computer cross-sections.
2) "Putting Flesh on Bone", explores what the animals looked like and how they behaved when they were alive. Some of the fossils are preserved in remarkable detail so that you can see the outlines of their flesh and the contents of their stomachs. Fur is clearly visible around a pterosaur fossil and the large breastbone suggests substantial flight muscles allowing powerful flight rather than just gliding. We visit the Smithsonian Institute where they have made a half-sized pterosaur model (large full-sized fossils can range from 35 to 50 feet wing-spans) to try to work out how the real giants of the air could fly.
3) "Dinosaur", provides the most familiar information. Dinosaurs have been 'done to death' by, seemingly, dozens of speculative and factual documentaries since David made this. But even if this episode is full of facts that have become familiar to us, it's better presented than most and still interesting.
4) "The Rare Glimpses", examines areas of the fossil record where information is sparse. We visit The Burgess Shales in British Columbia, Canada where there's a rare deposit of soft-bodied animals, the sort that don't usually fossilize. The animals of The Burgess Shale are beautiful, unlikely and bizarre. The most common creatures preserved 500 million years ago, were trilobites. But what did the trilobites eat and what ate the trilobites? The creatures that trilobites preyed upon and those that preyed upon trilobites are found here, at The Burgess Shale. After the time of the dinosaurs, there's another period when small, delicate mammals only rarely fossilized and we see a rare glimpse of them at sites in Germany: one where the famous Archaeopteryx fossil was discovered and another where the mudstone is a mere 48 million years old and hasn't finished solidifying into rock.
Somehow I missed this when it was first transmitted in 1989. That's a shame because it's exactly the sort of programme I look out for when scanning the tv listings. When so much is repeated on the television these days, it seems remarkable that I remained unaware of it until I did a search for the DVDs of David Attenborough's work. Thank goodness the BBC has started digging these treasures out of its dusty old archives and transferring them to DVDs for sale to those of us who can appreciate them. This is another of the Attenborough gems and all you would expect from the master of natural history/science programmes. The information still seems fresh, even though the series is 16 years old. Its age is only evident from the absence of raucous, irritating music and whiz-bang computer graphics. David Attenborough's narration is calm and his fascination and enthusiasm are obvious without the need for gushing and galumphing, as has become the fashion with more recent natural history documentary programmes. I've watched these series 3 times since I first received the DVD. We may watch documentaries mainly to acquire information and, of course, learning is a great source of enjoyment. But with really well-made programmes like this, it's more like the pleasure of reading a good book that, when you've finished it, you know you're going to want to read again.
Highly recommended.
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on 29 March 2005
A neglected Attenborough work, but perhaps his most passionate. The astonishing world of fossil creatures is presented without apology, with intellect, and poetry. From snakes petrified by a Yorkshire saint to the 'one small death' of a horsheshoe crab, buried with its footprints a hundred and forty million years ago, no attention is paid to anything but the subject, and no second of your time is wasted. When Attenborough grasps an ammonite and exclaims "oh, that's beautiful!" you're not watching some flourescent airhead (or pretended airhead) gurning at the camera and yelling "WOWWW! What IS it!?!". Nor are you watching Alan Titchmarsh eat scones in a field. No, this is the real thing, the honest communication of a real thought by a mind that knows what it it seeing to a mind capable of seeing it too - yours. Four episodes to rank with 'Life on Earth'.
The polystyrene-rock title sequence and some Jaws-like music add an unintentional period touch.
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on 3 September 2006
I remember watching this when it first came on tv, I still have my VHS recordings of it! For me it is his best ever series, but then maybe that's because I'm slightly more interested in the subject than anything else he's done since. That isn't to say he's not an inspiration and a real British gem, because he is. No-one has done more in the field of making the public aware of nature and the issues facing it than David. He's a jewel in our crown. He should be knighted, if he hasn't been already!

The most memorable moment for me comes in the first episode, "Magic in the Rocks", I think, where he's fossil hunting with an expert on the coast of England. They find a rock and he hits it with the hammer and chisel, to reveal a most wonderfully preserved amonite fossil inside, to which David gasps "Oh gosh! That's beautiful!". Still gives me goose-pimples just remembering that scene. For that moment among many, you should get this DVD. "Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives", is a crowning achievement in David's portfolio; it's a shame it has disappeared more or less into obscurity. Fortunately DVD has saved it from fossilation itself, giving new generations the chance to enjoy it again!

For adults and children alike, for entertainment value and education, "Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives" is a real gem.
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on 3 February 2006
I was trawling through the site looking for an alternative to the childrens seemingly interminable video games/tv scene..looking for something else in the same medium which might spark off an interest and a desire to explore and investigate further. On coming across this presentation by David Attenborough my only doubt was whether it would appeal to a 7 year old. On reading the two excellent and very true reviews below, I decided to take the chance and have been amazed at the response. Not only was he enthralled by it but could talk of nothing else afterwards and begged to be taken to see fossils. We have now been to an area where fossils are plentiful and next week are on our way to the museum to learn further. This has sparked a desire to know more - not only about fossils but about geology in general and how our earth was formed, which has led to us obtaining an excellent booklet on our area from the geological society. He is now also busy doing a project for one of his beaver badges using his new found knowledge. It has proved to be an inspirational DVD which has precipitated a learning curve for all the family. Thankyou to a master teacher.
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on 28 March 2011
This is an excellent little mini-series that I really enjoyed. However, its worth noting that it is a little dated now. There is another, much newer, Attenborough series called 'First Life' that covers many of the same topics and you may prefer to get that. It has much nicer CGI sections. However, ultimately 'Vanished Lives' probably has more detail. If you are interested in the origins of life, why not get both?
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on 5 February 2009
I ordered this on the firm believe on the quality of all the other BBC/David documentaries I own.

I was a little let down when the first episode played, and the shaky camera movements were so obvious, I started getting dizzy. There is also a consistent faded border on both left and right verticals that suggest that they original film was not carefully scan into digital, with the trailing edges of the negative being scanned or the negative not being positioned properly.

All this became even more obvious when I watched it on my 46" Sony Bravia W4500, with a Sony DVD player via HDMI. I had to switch back to my smaller 26" LCD to make the movements less obvious.

BBC should review this production and remaster and re-release it, with today current advances in image clean up and mastering and it will top it all off.

The wonderful informational detail, descriptions and the various experts give a very insightful view into this wonderful work of science.

BBC, remaster it and it will be another 5 star production.
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This Attenborough outing is a superb guide to all the choice preserved fossils on museum display up to 1989. In four 40 minute programmes David whisks us on a route march around all the 1989 cutting edge scientific techniques for reconstructing the lives of creatures preserved solely in rock. There's also some nifty dig sites where the excavators explain the various problems they have to overcome to remove entire specimens. There's CAT scanning, there's primitive computer reconstruction of burrows and the odd radio controlled flying pterosaur. Full marks to whoever excavated the primitive beaver burrow in its entirety - complete with an ex beaver at the bottom! And the hadrosaur dinosaur nests were incredible.

The final programme delves into all the great classic fossil communities - the Burgess Shales (trilobites and soft body preservation) Solnhofen (Archaeopterix etc in the limestones used for lithography), and the tar pit preservations of Messel (Germany) and La Brea (Los Angeles).

This is pre Walking With Dinosaurs animations (thankfully- as I think they were rather overdone) and pre the opening up of China. Still the credits should give you enough of a guide to where to book your holidays to see all the really great megafossil reconstructions if the trilobite nips you!
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on 11 October 2009
I must admit that many times when I've heard palaeontologists, looking at some fragments of bone or fossil, make what seemed to me like very fanciful deductions about the habits of, appearance of, and even sounds made by, the creatures they come from, I have felt that they were letting their imaginations run away with them.
But this series explains how they establish so much from so little, and has left me much less sceptical of their opinions.
A truly fascinating series, which I can heartily reccomend.
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on 5 February 2009
when i was a younger man, in the 80's, a nature documentary by attenborough, was considered a treat, regardless of the subject. as a lover of all things prehistoric, i hoped to see a sreies of attenborough's dedicated to dinosaurs or anything prehistoric. thus you can understand my pleasure when i discovered this series much later, only a year ago. when we remember that technology has advanced since 1989, and much else( east germany is now as gone as the archeopterix)the engaging and informative style of presentation can compete successfully with it's descendants in "walking with dinosaurs" . speaking of which, david attenborough was sadly missing as presentor of that excellent series, and one can only marvel why he objected to the making of such series. especially when the existence thereof is only natural as technology progresses. regardless, this series is a "missing link" from my youth! warmly recommended!
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on 16 February 2009
This is a documentary about the topics closest to David Attenboroughs interests - fossils. And you can see it, there seems to be that flicker of more enthusiasm in his eyes when he talks about the fossils in museums, or sits by while a fossil hunter splits in two a stone to reveal a beautiful fish fossil.

A must have if you are a fan of nature and Attenborough.
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