Life – DVD Review

The Discovery Channel is not new to the nature documentary game. Planet Earth is the most famous series, but that aired four years ago. Technology changes every day, so you knew that the Discovery Channel team would not sit back and rest on their successes. So as soon as Planet Earth premiered they started work on their next nature series: Life.

Shot over the course of 3,000 days, footage was culled from all seven continents and in every habitat.

The overall theme of this series is the struggle for survival. Each episode mainly consists of showing a large number of animals obtaining food, predators and prey interacting with each, mating rituals, parenting skills and adapting to their surroundings. There really is no overall story arc as each individual segment is not necessarily connected with each other. That is probably the biggest negative of this series, but fortunately that also means there is no preachy message that the people behind this film hope to pound home.

Spanning 150 different segments that last 3 to 4 minutes each, there is a a considerable upgrade in video quality. Everything was filmed in high-definition video with some filming techniques that technologically weren’t available in the past. The US Discovery Channel version of Life is narrated by Oprah Winfrey while the BBC UK version was narrated by David Attenborough.

What is great about this series, though, are the visuals. Many thought Planet Earth was amazing to watch. Life has just stepped things up to an unbelievable level. This is what high-definition television was made for.

Life is perhaps the best nature documentary series to date. With new technology and improved visuals, this is perhaps the closest you will ever get to these animals in their natural environment. There is no real consistent storyline to tie everything together from episode to episode, but that also means there is no preachy message either. So in the end Life is entertaining series for the whole family. If you have watched this yet, you need to go rent it now. It also gets a definite must-buy recommendation as well, unless you hate animals.


Disc One:

Episode 1 – The Challenges of Life
Introducing the extraordinary things animals and plants must do in order to survive and thrive. Witness capuchin monkeys smashing open palm nuts with stone ëhammersí, hippos launching from the water into the air and chameleons stealing prey from a spider’s web. Sprint with cheetahs as they band together to tackle ostriches; watch dolphins form perfect rings of mud to trap fish and swim with a seal as it struggles to escape attacking killer whales in the ice of Antarctica.

Episode 2 – Reptiles and Amphibians
From icy wastes to arid deserts, reptiles and amphibians have used their ancient, cold-blooded body plan along with sophisticated behavioral innovations to master the harshest environments on the planet. See Komodo dragons hunting buffalo, sea snakes with one of the most toxic venoms in the world that breed in caves, the seemingly suicidal leaps of a waterfall toad, the tender giant African bull frog that digs water channels to save not only its own young, but that of others too; and lizards that can walk on water.

Episode 3 – Mammals
New filming techniques reveal behavior that was previously impossible to capture in extreme locations. Fly among one of the largest migrations on Earth, as more than ten million fruit bats leave the Congo basin and converge in a few special trees in Zambia to feed, sprint with the tiny, extraordinary-looking sengi as it escapes a predatory lizard, see 30 polar bears gather to feed on a bowhead whale carcass and witness the biggest fight on Earth: male humpback whales battling for a female.

Disc Two:

Episode 4 – Fish
Fish can fly, sense electricity, swim at over 100mph and even walk on land. From the open ocean to coral reef and storm-ravaged surf to the freshwater springs of Kenya, swim with sharks, mudskippers and convict fish. See the hilariously named ìsarcastic fringe-headî fighting for its home territory; hunt with sailfish; glide with flying fish; enter the secret world of courting sea-dragons; and even join the epic journey of the tiny, cliff-climbing goby.

Episode 5 – Birds
Birds are supremely adaptable, capable not only of flying at phenomenal speeds and covering great distances, but of displaying a murderous nature, running on water in pursuit of love and even of building intricate structures. Using aerial camera techniques, Life flies with the birds and explores their incredible diversity and behavior: dodging the piratical frigate birds; soaring with the lammergeyers; dancing with a thousand flamingos in the lakes of Africa; and witnessing the extraordinary displays of spatula-tailed hummingbirds, western grebes and bowerbirds as they all attempt to attract a mate.

Episode 6 – Insects
Insects are the most diverse animal group on the planet. The key to their success is their unique ability to reshape themselves. They possess fearsome weapons, yet can display surprising tenderness and sophisticated behavior. Take to the skies with millions of monarch butterflies in Mexico, see a beetle spray boiling chemicals at its enemies, witness giant bees fight to the death over females, join the marching columns of grass cutter ants and spend a jeopardy-filled day with damsel flies.

Disc Three:

Episode 7 – Hunters and Hunted
Every day, in the jungles, grasslands, deserts and frozen wastelands, battles are won, fought and lost between carnivores and their prey. See cheetahs join forces to bring down an ostrich, a tiny stoat take on a rabbit ten times its size, elephant seal pups snatched from their nursery pool by a killer whale, the antics of a squirrel as it outwits a rattlesnake and at an amazing 2,000 frames per second, the strike of a bulldog bat flying at 60 mph.

Episode 8 – Creatures of the Deep
Using specially developed underwater tracking time-lapse techniques, LIFE takes a journey to the uncharted corners of the ocean. It’s here the newest discoveries are being made and the strangest creatures live, from huge spider crabs which gather in their thousands, seeking safety in numbers as they shed their protective shell, to cross-dressing giant squid. Join a 250-strong pack of Humboldt squid on a hunting expedition, see the ultimate self-sacrifice of a Pacific giant octopus mother who starves to death tending her young and dive under the permanent ice of Antarctica to see a seething carpet of starfish as they devour a seal pup carcass.

Episode 9 – Plants
The drama of the plant world is impossible to view with the naked eye. But using the latest time-lapse technology, all is revealed: how a Venus flytrap snaps shut and imprisons its prey and how the animal-like grasping hooks of the cat’s claw creeper and the sticky pads of the Boston ivy help in their fight for light. Fly with the seed that inspired the design of gliders, watch the fastest growing plant on Earth rocket up two feet a day and discover the water-trapping abilities of the bizarre dragon’s blood tree, which oozes red sap from its branches.

Disc Four:

Episode 10 – Primates
Primates are uniquely intelligent ñ engaging in problem solving, communication, tool use and intimate social interplay. Primates are uniquely intelligent, engaging in problem solving, communication, tool use and intimate social interplay. In the Congo, meet a tightly bound group of western lowland gorillas led by an ancient silverback, whose chest-beating sends shockwaves more than a mile through the undergrowth. See grey Phayreís leaf-monkey mothers in Thailand battling for the privilege to babysit bright orange newborns, encounter the violent disputes of a thousand hamadryas baboons and join chacma baboons shark egg hunting on the coast of South Africa.

Episode 11 – The Making of Life
This special behind-the-scenes episode showcases the exhaustive, remarkable and record-breaking efforts by the LIFE filmmaking team to bring the breathtaking images of intimate animal and plant behavior to the screen.

The video is given in anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is fantastic. The visuals are stunning, and the standard definition enough looks just about as good as it was on TV. Obviously, the Blu-ray version is a little better, but this version is not bad.

The audio included is available in English 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English, French, and Spanish as well. The dialogue and music come out loud and clear. No major problems here either.

“Life on Location” Featurettes
This is 10 video diaries that expand on the behind-the-scenes footage. They show how hard the crew worked to put this series together. Cameramen and filmmakers were often torn between excitement for getting an amazing shot and empathy for watching animals get hunted up close.

Deleted Scenes
This is 18 minutes worth of scenes that didn’t make the final cut of this series. All of them would probably be shocking for younger viewers to watch as various animals get eaten by other animals. There is some other interesting stuff in here as well, so definitely check these out.

“Music Only” Viewing Option
Here you can turn off Oprah Winfrey’s commentary, and just watch the show with the music playing only. That might please Oprah haters.

This nature series is a must-watch, even if you haven’t enjoyed nature shows in the past. Life is never boring, and you won’t be disappointed by watching this. Recommended purchase for sure.

BBC Earth Home Video presents Life. Created by BBC Natural History Unit, Mike Gunston, and Susan Winslow. Narrated by Oprah Winfrey. Running time: 484 minutes. Rated: NOT RATED. Released on DVD: June 1, 2010.