Blu-ray Review: One Life



For those familiar with the BBC Earth series, their latest release One Life may have you feeling a sense of déjà vu. That’s because a good chunk of footage from this documentary can also be found in David Attenborough’s popular Life series, also from BBC Earth. Of course, those who haven’t seen Life, or would prefer a much trimmer “highlight reel” of sorts, will likely find One Life extremely entertaining, and stunningly beautiful.

The narrative in this 85-minute tale follows the thought that all forms of life on this planet follow the same path: to survive, reproduce, and to make sure that the next generation has the best chance of survival possible in order to continue the circle of life in the future. While it may seem quite linear in structure, it’s an addictive watch, and it never treads on one species too long, almost to a fault.

While it’s understandable that the filmmakers want to get as many species as they can into One Life, there are quite a few times where the animal, reptile or insect being focused on is so interesting, that it leaves you craving more information. Of course, with a film like this, that’s just the point. The brisk 85-minute runtime allows this to be the perfect entry-level nature documentary for families, or those who may be too intimidated by a four-disc, nine hour set; or a great “best of” compilation for just don’t have the time to invest in anything longer.

One Life is filled with shots and sequences that are absolutely mind-blowing. Within the first 10 minutes I began to wonder if some of the shots were created digitally to set up the real shots, it’s just that unbelievable. It wasn’t until I watched the special features and saw the camera ops out in the field, spending hours and hours in trees, just waiting for a single close-up shot, and giant rigs being set up in the rain forest in order to get out of reach shots that my doubts were put to rest, and all that remained was the pure astonishment that everything I had just watched was shot and recorded straight from nature itself.

There are multiple times when slow motion is used, and it really helps the viewer take in all the amazing attributes these creatures have, and just how amazing it is to watch them in the wild. The film spans all across the globe, reaching places such as Kenya, and Israel, as well as Japan, Costa Rica, Chile and North America, just to name a handful. Each location is home to one animal, plant, insect, reptile, fish or amphibian that is focused on for that segment, which can last anywhere from thirty seconds to five or so minutes. Each segment is also filled with a rich soundtrack that helps tell that particular story.

James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, narrates the film. Craig’s voice is perfect for this role, and is both soft, yet assertive in his delivery. The story he’s been given to tell is one of life on this planet, and how it all relates in regards to the overall journey we are all connected by and share. Many human qualities are pointed out and emphasized in order to create a connection between those on the screen and the viewers at home, which is commonplace in nature documentaries. It works for the most part here, helping to keep the narrative moving forward, while also making the transitions from place to place all the more seamless and entertaining.

One Life was created for the big screen out of over 3000 hours of footage filmed, which is hard to even imagine. The story was weaved out of the best possible choices in order to tell the tale that the filmmakers wanted to tell, focusing on individual stories of the characters involved, instead of the species themselves. As stated above, it’s the perfect nature documentary for those who wish to learn a little about a great deal of species in a short amount of time, while enjoying absolutely jaw-dropping visuals along the way.

The sound and visual quality in One Life are fantastic, which really bodes well for the superbly shot footage being showcased throughout. The 1080p HD 16×9 1.85:1 screen looks vibrant when it needs to be, and dark and crisp when it calls for it, interchanging between seamlessly, while the 5.1 DTS-HD audio follows along beautifully.

The special features found exclusively on the Blu-ray definitely make it the version to purchase if you have the choice. There’s so much content to be found here that it’s almost like watching another documentary altogether. Also, when the case is first opened, you’ll likely find an insert fluttering down to your floor like I did. Upon closer inspection I discovered that it’s a card made out of wild flower seeds, and it tells you to plant the entire card under a thin layer of soil and water it daily, thus allowing the wild flowers to grow right in your garden. It’s a really nice added bonus to the package.

There’s a director’s commentary on the DVD feature (this is a Blu-ray + DVD combo title), but the Blu-ray exclusives are as follows:

Behind the Scenes – This feature is broken up into three sections, with even more branches found within those. First up, there’s the “Behind the Scenes: At the Music Recording.” This is a fast featurette, at only three and a half minutes in length. It takes the viewer to where the orchestra records the wonderful soundtrack for the film.

Then there’s another small featurette branch in this one called “Behind the Scenes: Bonus Shots.” This is two and a half minutes in length (if you click Play All) and it shows a few bonus shots (without narration) of four species shown in the film.

Finally, there’s the “Behind the Scenes: On Location,” which are some of the most fascinating pieces available in the bonus features, and are definitely a must watch for anyone who sees the film. The four branching featurettes found within this feature show how the camera ops actually filmed four specific segments for the BBC, and they’re as interesting and intriguing to watch as the footage they shot. The four segments covered are the Ibex, the Silverback gorillas, the Strawberry Poison Arrow Frog, and the Komodo dragon. The camera ops talk to the camera on location, and are full of information, while some, like Kevin Flay, are just outright entertaining in their commentary. This piece runs at just over half an hour if you click “Play All” and it’s highly recommended that you do just that.

Making of One Life and Making of One Life (Feat. Daniel Craig) – Maybe someone can explain something I missed here, but while these are two separate bonus features, I found them both to be identical, aside from the fact that the one featuring Daniel Craig is about a minute longer. That said, Daniel Craig was nowhere in sight for this bonus feature, so I’m not sure why they didn’t just keep one of these and drop the shorter one. Regardless, at roughly 18 minutes in length, this feature focuses on the filmmaking process, and just how much work went into designing the film and weaving the story together.

Animal Film Clips – This was another special feature that I found odd, as it’s literally a handful of segments picked from the film and places into the special features. If you’ve just watched the film, then you’ve just seen these clips.

Interviews – The cast interviews starts with the stories from the camera ops, and then moves into the filmmakers perspectives. If “Play All” is selected, this feature runs at just under an hour in length, and is extremely informative and entertaining (especially the stories camera ops); however, it is possible to select the people you want to hear from individually and watch it all in moderation.

One Life is definitely worth seeking out from Amazon.ca, especially if you are looking for a brisk introductory nature documentary, or one that families can watch together and learn from in a time frame that will keep everyone’s attention. Highly recommended.

An Alliance Films release BBC Earth Presents One Life. Written & Directed by: Michael Gunton & Martha Holmes. Narrated by: Daniel Craig. Running time: 85 minutes. Rating: G. Released on Blu-ray: April 10, 2012. Available at Amazon.ca.

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