Top positive review
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Reptiles come alive on another excellent BBC DVD
on 5 February 2008
Life in Cold Blood is another sterling wildlife series from the BBC, presented with warmth and authority by veteran naturalist David Attenborough. This DVD set contains all the core episodes plus a variety of additional, behind-the-scenes material, to run to over five hours. The photography is beautiful and the reptilian subject matter is intricately examined and explained for al to understand. It's an excellent teaching tool while at the same time providing colourful entertainment for anyone with a vague interest in natural history.
Using new filming techniques help to keep what can be a bit of a staid subject more interesting. Tricky animation shows how cold-blooded reptiles move heat around their bodies to stay warm, or demonstrates what goes on inside a giant python when it's just eaten an entire deer. (In fact, the footage of the snake swallowing the deer is some of the most extraordinary natural history filming I've ever seen).
LICB also uses ground-breaking filming to illustrate what's going on underneath the skin - and the heat cameras brilliantly demonstrate how a sea iguana changes temperature throughout its daily routine. The occasional animation of the odd dinosaur is a welcome bit of fluff, too (after all, T-Rex is much more camera-friendly than a snake which spends three days out of four being dormant!)
The Cold-Blooded Truth explains how reptiles function differently to warm-blooded mammals; how they use the warmth of the sun to function and how bigger reptiles can store heat and so be active even at night. The Amphibians episode looks at the creatures which first made the transition from the oceans to dry land, and how their descendents (mainly frogs) need now to balance their needs to stay moist with their need to be warm. The Lizards programme looks in depth at reptiles which live in dry, desert conditions while the Snakes episode uses CCTV to show how clever rattlesnakes are when hunting, and Attenborough `enjoys' the experience of being spattered with venom from a spitting cobra. The final programme mixes the most interesting of the reptiles - the ferocious saltwater crocodiles - and some of the most mundane (turtles and tortoises just don't do it for me!)
Of course, LICB does has its flaws although they are fairly minor compared to the accomplishment of the overall series. Some times it's a little bit too pleased with how clever it all is, and like many of these series it does tend to repeat stand-out shots and general information from one episode to the next. So if you watch them all in close succession you will notice some repetition.
It also suffers from the usual natural history problem: while there is a fair bit of startling new footage here, there's also new film of the same-old same-old. I watch quite a few documentaries and probably never need to see the leatherback turtles laying their eggs again. Really. There are some aspects of a subject which get repeated every time the programme-makers go near the subject - and surely David A must be fed up with the turtles, too?
Apart from my (personal) over-exposure to some of the themes, this is an excellent series and a good value DVD set. It tackles what can be a very `worthy but dull' subject and manages to translate more than 90% of it into colourful and interesting TV. It falls somewhere between four and five stars: 9/10