Has there ever been a more superbly made nature documentary than Life, a co-production of BBC and Discovery Channel? Narrated by Oprah Winfrey and beautifully filmed and edited, it is the most entertaining and visually stunning television documentary that I have seen. Now this magnificent natural history series is available on DVD.
Even the packaging of the four-DVD boxed set is attractive, with holographic rays and backgrounds and embossed title and animals. There are also awesome stills of some of the animals featured (did they put the two-page flamingo spread in there just for me?).
Special features include “Life on Location” (“a collection of ten behind the scenes video diaries showing the exhaustive efforts by the filmmaking team…”), deleted scenes, and—my favorite—a “Music Only” viewing option. No slight to Ms. Winfrey, but without the narration the DVDs provide delightful “wallpaper.”
As narrator, Winfrey is the right balance of serious and amused; she ably conveys the whimsical aspects of what we see on screen as well as the life-or-death existence in the wild. There is a certain enthusiasm in her narration of Life that is engaging. Winfrey lends a more familiar, family-friendly voice to the commentary.
Life presents all the episodes that were broadcast earlier this spring on the Discovery channel. The first disc offers “The Challenges of Life,” “Reptiles and Amphibians,” and “Mammals.” Disc 2 has “Fish,” "Birds,” and “Insects”; Disc 3, “Hunters and Hunted,” “Creatures of the Deep,” and “Plants”; Disc 4, “Primates,” “The Making of Life,” and “Deleted Scenes.” Each episode stands alone, introducing the viewer to different species with which we share our planet. It’s impossible to pick a favorite because they are all so well produced.
One of my favorite aspects of Life is that those responsible either did not suffer the temptation, or avoided it thoroughly, to focus on the brutality of the wild and animals mating. Yes, sex and violence. These elements are not ignored but they are treated as part of the story, not the heart of it. There are scenes of predators and their prey, and they are real, not prettified (if that’s at all possible), and there are scenes detailing procreation, but there isn’t all that much that even the youngest viewer can’t watch.
One of the best reasons for seeing Life is that, of the 130 stories reported, 54 have never been filmed before. Many viewers will be seeing animals and plants that they have never heard of, no less seen before. The variety of species presented in Life is dizzying—and yet it is only a small percentage of all the species that inhabit this planet.
From the tiniest of insects to the largest mammals, Life introduces us to the complexities of their lives. Amazing survival skills, amusing (as interpreted by humans) behavior, and family life are all documented. We laugh at the antics of primates and mourn with mothers who lose their children. We learn how much we have in common with other species, and how much various species have in common with each other.
Sure, Life is educational, but don’t hold that against it. It is wildly (sometimes I can’t help myself) entertaining and a wonderful addition to the DVD library.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent Life? Of course I would, don’t be silly. I love this series.