on 29 January 2010
After Planet Earth became a legendary hit on home cinema for certain sequences on full HD, there were high expectations placed on any HD follow up releases. Life doesn't disappoint in this respect. 4 Years in the making, this Latest series is a bewildering showcase of the reclusive types of life we find on the planet and technology used to capture it.
As opposed to being a purely educational lesson on the variety of species and their relations with each other and their environment, it is the weird and wonderful species that get the film time. This is a good thing due to the rarity of some of the obtained footage. The skill that has been required by the team to capture these moments is immense, probably not replicable by all other wildlife documentary makers due to time and budget constraints.
Episodes are 50 minutes long followed by a ten minute insight into their efforts at the end illustrating the techniques used to film a single scene in an episode. Each episode covers a separate animal group, with some episodes covering broader issues such as hunters and prey and general challenges faced by some life. These broader episodes do often have repeated footage, eg some penguin sequences are shared between the `challenges of life' episode and the `birds' episode. As I watched these all in quick succession, I found some parts repetitive, but watching some of the more stunning sequences for a second time was still welcomed.
Particular highlights were seeing the primates at work and using tools, which deeply illustrated our genetic proximity to them. (It made me wonder at times if I could actually find an example of a primate making more intelligent use of its environment and each other than a human). I generally appreciated the sequences that depict a species clever use of environment or body parts that hints towards higher intelligence than we would normally attribute to the other members of the animal kingdom, and there were plenty of these occasions to behold. The marine episode also captured some striking sequences and the butterflies collecting in huge numbers on the insects episode was stunning.
The HD picture quality is more evident in some places than others, though generally id say its excellent overall and still definitely more consistent than Planet Earth was. As the filming takes place in the real world with real lighting and positioning constraints, not all images are going to be as fantastic as the next. The underwater sequences showed a mix, where some of the coral and organisms looked wonderfully sharp and illuminated, but other shots could look murky due to the impurities in the water. I would say every episode captures at some point a jaw-dropping sequence that gives you the full justification for why you bought your Bluray player. In many cases it really had to be appreciated how some things so small such as ants could be captured in sufficient detail to fit a full 1080p image with no focus issues.
This series seemed designed to bring images to shock people, as they would come to realise that such weird organisms exist in reality and not just in CGI movie sequences. Of the seemingly almost infinite variety of species on the planet, only a tiny fraction is represented here, that leaves me wanting another series to continue the showcase. No doubt Attenborough and team will oblige.
on 29 September 2010
There aren't superlative's enough to describe this achievement. But it is not only phenomenal but also intimate, rich in detail, storylines well constructed, and captivating. And for those reasons, to be quite honest, I found it to be even better than "Earth".
To stories told offer an unique insight and often are the first of it's kind - ever.
And then Sir David Attenborough - ahh. What can you say, he is simply the best. He explains what is necessary, he pauses when to take in the scenery, he has a good humour, and most importantly for me, he is "Genuine".
The only thing that disappointed me a little, is that I don't believe the description of the blu-ray to be true. It states to be 1080p, I found it to be 1080i. Nothing to worry about, the picture quality is spectecular. Still one might wonder if it is a typo or a deliberate mistake. An otherwise such brilliant monument in documentary deserves better than that.
It has 10 different episodes of about 50min:
1. "Challenges of Life"
2. "Reptiles and Amphibians"
7. "Hunters and Hunted"
8. "Creatures of the Deep"
And each episode is tailed by a short "Making of". This is not some information on the side but something which adds tremendous value. (By the way, "Earth" blu-ray hasn't got the "Making of" - only the DVD version.) For example the additional images given in the production of the Komodo Dragons was just breathtaking. The attacking Komodo Dragon scene couldn't be presented in the Episode because it was chasing by a cameraman. The hazzle and emotion of the team gave a better understanding of the whole story.
So here it is:
One of THE BEST DOCUMENTARY there is.
You sometimes despair of the BBC under current management with their huge salaries and 70p car parking claims! That said I can forgive Mark Thompson almost anything when it comes to squeezing every last drop of wisdom and learning from one of the greatest Britons of this century Sir David Attenborough. The words "national treasure" is overused but what we are witnessing is the development of the most remarkable "database" of natural history which will last through the ages but which also comes with a serious warning about our impact on the climate. Sir David and his partners the brilliant BBC natural history unit based at Bristol have generated one of the great bodies of research work of the past hundred years and a miraculous advert for intelligent television and quality programming.
You also sometime recoil when you consider what a wasted medium television has become. Bruce Springsteen once sung of "57 channels and nothing on" and surf that remote on any day and you sometimes long for the days of 4 firecely competitive channels who had to major on quality and not the lowest denominator. Quite how we have managed to debase the genre in this way is worrying and astounding. Yet before we lose faith there is always oasis of quality and in the case of Attenborough's programmes the standard never dips.
In this current programme "Life" there is so many highlights it is difficult to single them out. But one thinks of the filming of the tense and pitiful portrayal of the first footage of Komodo dragons hunting a water buffalo and stalking the animal for weeks as the poison they have injected through bites disable the creature. The tricks of Dolphins to catch mullets by stirring up ocean mud and the killer whales coming to shore to catch seals are equally memorable. Although the series ultimate stars are the three Kenyan cheetahs.
Another review on this page suggests that "Life" has a quality of De ja vu and has been done better in the series "Blue Planet" or "Planet Earth". A churlish argument in my view since much of Attenborough's work is complimentary and while I accept that the two aforementioned series are magisterial, "Life" stands in its own right as a thrilling addition to his oeuvre. This is the only programme that my children will actively leave various X Boxes and Play stations to sit down and watch. They will also not complain if it clashes with some celebrity nonsense or trivia on another channel. Attenborough's programmes challenge, stimulate, provoke and most importantly make you think. They are also populist, intelligent, hugely watchable and thus viewed by millions across the the world. He has done broadcasting a massive service and we all owe him the most profound debt.
on 1 December 2009
I am watching the series each week & bought the dvd the day it was released. There are so many wonderful scenes it's all but impossible to pick out just one. But if I had to choose a favourite, it would have to be those young meerkats falling asleep standing up.
'Life' is filled with such gems, those clever dolphins, that selfless octopus, the stalk-eyed flies, the elephant family, that incredibly cute little shrew, that young ibex outwitting a predator it's never seen before, the cheetahs working together to bring down an ostritch, etc, etc, etc,.
This is definately one for the dvd shelf!
on 30 December 2011
The quality of this blu ray is absolutely outstanding!
The quality of the series itself is beyond question - the vast array of animals covered, and with it their obscure behaviours that we couldn't have imagined, makes this series so good. There is a vast amount of detail in every episode, all presented in David Attenborough's inimitable style.
The quality of the blu ray presentation itself is a benchmark by which others should be judged; whether it is the vibrant, rich colours of the rainforest's chameleons, the detail on the eyeballs of a preying mantis, or a shot of the Antarctic in all of its glory - every scene looks remarkable.
The sound is also outstanding, particularly on surround sound. When there is an underwater shot of fish or whales, every bubble and splash can be heard. When a lizard bites into an insect there is a distinctive, sickening crunch. And when a tarantula is moving in on it's prey, the bristling of the hairs on its legs can be heard clearly. All the while, bird songs and various other wildlife noises can be heard clearly on the other speakers.
All in all, this is the best nature documentary I have ever watched, and the best blu ray I have ever experienced. Buy this now and you won't be disappointed!
There is little doubt that the BBC are unrivalled in their outstanding natural world documentaries. Their production values, exclusive access to David Attenborough, vast experience and ability to spend millions on the shows means they constantly set the standard for everyone else.
The 10 episode series 'Life' see's the up-close and stunning technical wizardry of 'Planet Earth' reproduced but this time it is looking solely at the life upon the planet. Divided into categories such as 'Amphibians' & 'Birds' & 'plants' etc plus a couple that look at sub-genres like 'Hunters & hunted' & 'Challenges of life'.
Before offering any criticism let me say that the values here are as high as ever, the creatures & plants fascinating and the depth of research breathtaking. The photography at times takes on a surreal aspect that almost leaves the viewer feeling detached and makes certain scenes seem almost 'unreal'. The problem here is that, while the simply superb 'Planet Earth' was a groundbreaking use of new technologies, unheard of patience, previously unseen moments and a collection of quality footage that was fantastic, it drew the viewer in and almost as it were put you in the front seat of the filming vehicle or up in the balloon or helicopter etc. You felt as if you were there and the huge array of machinery & technology used to capture those moments was kept in the background while every effort was made to make everything seem real and close. It wasn't until the last 10 minutes of every programme, when just how it was all done was shown, that you realised just what went in to it all and how complicated and at times mind numbing the efforts to capture a scene were. With 'Life' the exact opposite is true. The main 50 minutes are interesting, eye opening and well worth a watch but the eagerness to showcase new technical abilities has left this feeling, as I said, unreal. It's not until the final 10 minutes of behind the scenes footage that a sense of reality is restored.
Added to this is the fact that this almost feels like the unwanted bits of 'Planet Earth' & 'Life of Mammals'. Both of those were new, previously unseen and exciting but 'Life' retreads a by now well trodden path and although it has much to offer and is worth while I'm afraid that it simply cannot compare with the sheer scale and jaw dropping achievement of 'Planet Earth'.
I simply don't feel that this is a necessary title to own if you already have the likes of 'Planet Earth', 'Life of Mammals' or 'Blue planet'. Surely those easily re-watched and much loved pioneering series would simply leave this gathering dust upon the shelf once the initial 1st watch was over?
on 14 March 2016
An incredible journey into nature and amazing film techniques. Lots of information about how they achieved some of the footage is a great bonus at the end of the DVD's and it shows the creative process that goes into producing these quality documentaries. I actually enjoyed that part more than the actual footage, but I'm interested in the technical side of film making.
Nature in the raw is quite graphic and even though I know it's factual and part of the jungle law, I am not so keen on seeing animals rip each other to pieces. Think twice before showing young children some of the footage. I didn't even want to watch some of the scenes, so I think it is hardly appropriate for children under ten, unless you really want to expose them to "Life" in all its full colour reality.
Having said that it is a great educational, interesting and factual way to learn about our amazing world.
on 8 June 2010
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)  [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] , 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] , 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.
on 20 April 2016
Here is the breakdown in the differences between the UK and US versions of LIFE:
1) Narrator: UK version, by David Attenborough, while US version, by Oprah Winfrey. I personally prefer David Attenborough's skilled narration. He is perfect at describing various scenes without his voice becoming the primary focus. This round goes to UK version.
2) Video: UK version, completely 1080p except "Plants", while US version, completely 1080i. This round goes to UK version, hands down.
3) Functionality: US version is far superior in selecting episodes than UK version
4) Packaging: Covers for US version are more busy, but in the end, it depends on your own personal taste.
For me, 1080p and the very comforting voice of David Attenborough made my purchase of the UK version a very easy decision. Since I watch each episode completely each time around, I do not mind the less superior functionality of the UK version. The front cover is no issue to me.
From the BBC Earth series, Planet Earth in 2006 brought us the world as we've never seen before. Now we get closer with Life. As stated on the package, four years in the making, filmed over 3000 days, across every continent and in every habitat, with breathtaking new high definition filming techniques developed since Planet Earth, Life presents 130 incredible stories from the frontiers of the natural world, housed in 4 BD-50 discs. The topics included (1) Challenges of Life, (2) Reptiles and Amphibians, (3) Mammals, (4) Fish, (5) Birds, (6) Insects, (7) Hunters and Hunted, (8) Creatures of the Deep, (9) Plants, and (10) Primates. It was truly a totally enjoyable and learning experience. Like a good book, one can watch it continuously to the end. The new feature in this set is the Life on location at the end of each episode. It gave me a deeper appreciation of how these remarkable videos were taken.
It was filmed in 1080p and 1.78:1. If you think Planet Earth was outstanding, wait until you watch Life. The video was truly spectacular with razor-sharp images. The blacks were inky black. The colour was vibrant and natural. I particularly enjoyed the slow-motion camera shots, where details of every hair on the animal or drops from splashes of the ocean waves could be seen. Avatar may give us crisp images and vibrant colour (CGI images), but Life here presents us with the perfectly natural images: real animals in their natural habitat. Some frames were so wonderful that they looked like a piece of art. (5++/5).
The DTS HD audio here is also equally awesome. The natural sound of the animals was very well recorded and produced, very realistic indeed. The sound of buzzing of flies was so realistic that I put my hand up trying to brush them off. The background music by George Fenton was also very well done, appropriate to the scenes. The background music never intrudes into the video. (5/5)
This Life set is a truly remarkable experience. One will lose the impact if you watch this on standard DVD or on the Discovery Channel. This blu ray set is the only way to appreciate how fantastic video and audio will give one a truly ultimate rewarding experience. In my home theatre with a 12 foot wide screen and anamorphic lens, one can see every minute detail in the pictures, and the sound was very enveloping from my 9 speakers. I will give this Life set (blu ray) my highest recommendation. You won't regret it.
on 23 May 2013
Having watched Sir David's earliest documentaries, the thing that strikes me most about the 21st century output is the accelerating brevity of the Series and the episodes, neither of which can be altogether plausibly attributed to his increasing frailty! Though the music now commissioned is stunning and utterly perfect and beautiful (the young Elizabeth Parker's well-intentioned but sonically hideous electronic post-Stockhausen caterwaulings make the early stuff very difficult to enjoy) the actual footage culled from years of footage we'll never get to see is cursory, and not helped by 20% of the programme being devoted to The Making Of... with repetitive footage, best put on disc as extras! The latest, AFRICA, is definitely in "Oh, Dear: poor Grandad - what have they done with him" territory.
By contrast THE LIVING PLANET strikes me as the best nature documentary series of all time: time being the operative word. Time to linger on the subject. Time to show a real series! We've gone from LIFE ON EARTH's 13 1 hour, totally original episodes to AFRICA's 5 43 minute, parson's egg combining stunning, ground-breaking film with rather blatant recycling of old material.
As for LIFE: basically undeniably a must-have item, it does contain the second most gruesome of Sir David's subject matters (2nd only to the nightmarish gray whale episode on BLUE PLANET). Having watched the komodo sequence once, I cannot bring myself to watch it again! Give me an honest tyrannosaur any day.
It is reviewed as edited from 1000s of hours of film, which rather proves my main objection to the brevity and the trivial broadcast time allotted!