Customer Review

41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, but lacking in substance, 8 Jun 2010
This review is from: Life [DVD] (DVD)
On the plus side, there is, as usual from the BBC Natural History Unit, some great photography here which makes the series a joy to watch. However, I feel "Life", and indeed other recent series such as Planet Earth : Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set) [2006] [DVD], are let down by a number of points.

The most important of these is that the recent series often seem to be out of touch with the field of zoological research that enhances our understanding of the natural world. Whilst some interesting facts are sometimes mentioned, giving the viewer the impression that the series is well-researched, often the interpretations of animal behaviour are at odds with the scientific evidence. For example, it is confidently stated that young capuchin monkeys learn to crack palm nuts by watching and imitating adults, whereas it is likely that social influences on the development of this behaviour are more subtle. At other times, the significance of what is being reported is not conveyed. For example, take the footage of meerkats of helper adults teaching young to deal with scorpions: the finding of an exciting and recent study which constitutes some of the strongest evidence for teaching in a nonhuman species. However, this fact is not conveyed, partially due to the fact that the BBC NHU are often making confident statements about adults teaching young in all sorts of species for which there is little or no evidence. To my understanding, one of the main messages from the meerkats case is that behaviour can evolve for a teaching function, without being reliant on the ability to understand the state of the pupil's ignorance, but this too is not explained.

To me, a good natural history program is not one that "dumbs down" its content by ignoring all that "complicated" science, but one that uses innovative footage to make such ideas accessible to the viewer. In this respect I feel the series produced by Martha Holmes and Alastair Fothergill compare unfavourably with the superb work of John Downer, who produced programs like Lifesense: Our Lives Through Animal Eyes and Predators [DVD] [2000], which I think used the medium of film very effectively to convey our scientific understanding of animals' lives. I would go so far as to suggest that even David Attenborough's work has shown a downward trend in terms of the scientific information it conveys, when one compares, say, Life On Earth [DVD] [1979], with his more recent programs. Now the emphasis seems to be increasingly on impressing the viewer with how clever the NHU is to get the footage they do, which is fair enough, but not enough on its own.

Another area where I think "Life" specifically fails, is the script (and program structure) which I assume was written by Martha Holmes, and flows badly compared to David Attenborough's own efforts. Another niggle is how everything is shown in slow-mo. Yes, it is very impressive that we have the technology to see fast behaviour in smooth slow motion, but if we don't get to see things at normal speed too we cannot appreciate, say, how fast a chameleon can use its projectile tongue.

So in summary, whilst I greatly enjoy watching "Life", I feel the BBC should re-think its strategy when writing these big-budget series, and they could be so much more.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Sep 2010 15:11:18 BDT
Pj Stacey says:
THe thing that annoyed me was the obsession in having "suitable" music for everything. eg crabs walking on sea bed. It is distracting.

Posted on 7 Oct 2010 11:29:53 BDT
A. Holliday says:
There's also a lot a composited fakery in this series compared to some of the others. You ever wondered why all the shots are so perfectly composed (like a film rather than a documentary)?
I also have it on good authority that at least some of the underwater footage has been photoshopped re the colour hues and saturation which don't match the real deal.

Not quite a nature documentary anymore, but very pretty....

Posted on 13 Jun 2011 16:29:49 BDT
Flora Cake says:
Whilst I generally agree with you I do not agree with the dumbing down comment. I feel that these sorts of programmes have to be made accessible to children (my son loves them), and this is what is done by making it a bit less complicated.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jun 2011 09:26:29 BDT
WJE Hoppitt says:
Thank you for your comment. I intended to imply that the science need not be complicated, it just the broadcasters seem to think so these days. Series like those of John Downer and David Attenborough (the earlier ones especially) manage to covey such messages in a way that is accessible for everyone. Indeed I used to watch programs like "Life on Earth" when I was young, and this was a major factor in getting me interested in the natural world. If we are talking about very young children, surely a more insightful commentary would not detract from the images of the natural world?

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jun 2011 09:35:08 BDT
WJE Hoppitt says:
I think there is always an element of necessary fakery in nature documentaries, apart from in live footage type shows. I believe the general process is to write a script giving the story of what happens to the animals involved, and then seek the shots required. This is clearly a necessity, you can't really follow an animal around documenting everything that happens to it, nor be guaranteed an interesting storyline if you could. However, this makes it all the more important that script writers provide us with a story that truly reflects what we know about the species involved.
As for the photoshopping of images, I'm not sure what I think about that, I suppose it is really not too different from using filters etc.

Posted on 3 Dec 2013 18:40:54 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Dec 2013 18:58:28 GMT
Milkshake says:
"I feel the BBC should re-think its strategy when writing these big-budget series, and they could be so much more."

What pretentious nonsense !! The next time they advertise for the position of Director General of the BBC, I suggest you apply for it.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Dec 2013 10:02:19 GMT
Last edited by the author on 5 Dec 2013 10:56:59 GMT
WJE Hoppitt says:
I don't believe it is "pretentious nonsense": I am a recognised expert in animal behaviour, especially with regards to how animals learn from others. Therefore I don't think there is anything pretentious about me commenting on the lack of evidence for many of the claims made in these programs, or that the scientific background is dumbed down.
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