This is a short, two episode but thoroughly enjoyable series which uses recent paleontological discoveries - many of them from China - to tell the story of human evolution, from an alternative different angle to the normal approach. Over two hours, Attenborough uses fossils, CGI, diagrams and filming of contemporary equivalents / offspring to illustrate the pathway from primitive fish, to amphibians and reptiles; then dinosaurs and birds; mammals, primates and finally us. Never one to hog the limelight he frequently involves the specialists who've revealed new knowledge, buried deep in ancient rock. The creatures featured range from tiny little fish to the megafauna; there's a detailed explanation of how and why humans ended up being warm-blooded placental mammals - not to mention how we got eyes, ears, lungs and so forth. Don't expect anything here to disagree with Darwin!
The filming, as you'd expect, is top-quality. It veers away from the pointlessly dramatic helicopter-filming-helicopter type shots (the sound-track is pretty low-key, too), but we're still treated to some gorgeous landscapes and an array of awesome fossil remains. The photography is mercifully free of that fashionable `blurred edge' soft-focus fad, which many documentary makers seem unable to resist at the moment... Attenborough remains on top form. A bit less agile than he used to be, but still as engaging as ever; able to express complex concepts without patronising the audience or over-simplifying the subject. Some of the animated sections are wonderfully wonky. The first flying dinosaur looks like it escaped from ToyStory, but the CGI of a wee skeletal rodent being brought to life to run around Attenborough's hand is ridiculously cute. Ditto the moment when a warm-blooded puppy does its best to play with a cold-blooded lizard in an inspired moment of table top filming to demonstrate the difference between the two. I didn't find the map-of-evolution very helpful either, but then, it's not exactly a straightforward thing to try to represent all known species on a 2D timeline...
Short but very sweet, then: an admirable lesson to many film-makers in how to cram a huge amount of information into a petite package. Some people would have spun this out of six episodes and filled the gaps with endless repetition and 'presenter treks across Gobi desert' moments. Applause all round for an altogether more accomplished package - one which ably uses modern animation to make dry old bones entirely interesting.
Yet another excellent series from David Attenborough. Well written and plenty of content. As usual Attenborough has the knack of making potentially difficult subject matter comprehensible to the layman.
This is a typical high quality product both written and narrated by David Attenborough. The recording itself is an HD product, copyrighted in 2013. The programs use advanced CGI techniques to enlarge upon the real life locations and examples drawn from around the world. In recent years China has been a veritable fossil goldmine for researchers and viewers watching this series will have a very up-to-date understanding of the material and current expert thinking.
The disc comprises of two 60 minute programs during which the development from Sea to Skies is chronicled, explained and illustrated in the first episode. The following episode continues in the same way and covers the Dawn of Mammals bringing the story up to the present time. There is a final 18 minute extra sequence in which Attenborough answers questions from an audience based on their watching the documentaries. In many ways this adds hugely to the two main documentaries as he is able to expand on ideas and research featured in those films. His answers deal with potential future scenarios as well as the past.
China is now seen as the new fossil frontier as the rocks there are able to provide evidence to fill gaps previously left from other discoveries elsewhere. Over 200 new species of water-based creatures have been unearthed there just from the Cambrian period for example. It was in China that the Myllokunmingia was discovered. That was a creature from 500 million years ago that was an immediate precursor to vertebrates by having a flexible rod rather than a true backbone. A modern example would be a lamprey.
The Messel Pit in Germany has been the source of considerable examples of complete fossils by being the site of an extinct but previously active volcano. The thinking here is that fumes from this volcano brought about the death of these creatures whose fossil remains have been remarkably preserved in the sediment within the volcano’s crater and now easily accessed.
The above is intended to simply whet the appetite of potential enthusiasts and to give a broad outline of the depths explored by these two films and interview. This is an invaluable addition to the expanding sequence of invaluable films made by David Attenborough.