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DVD Review: The BBC Natural History Collection

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When it comes to natural history, nobody beats the BBC. With pioneering technology and a crack team of slightly crazy naturalists, the BBC has been able to capture some of the most intense and gorgeous footage the world has ever seen. Now with The BBC Natural History Collection DVD box set, the best of this footage is available in one gargantuan anthology.

With over 33 hours of programming spread out over 17 discs, there is no question that this collection is a substantial enterprise. The set features four documentary series, each hosted by David Attenborough. There are also hours of special features, making The BBC Natural History Collection one of the most exciting box sets to be had.

Planet Earth

The keystone of this compilation is the epic series Planet Earth. Applauded by Oprah Winfrey and many others, Planet Earth is currently the top-selling documentary boxed set on Amazon and has been since its first release one year ago. This five-disc series runs the gamut of our vast planet, taking us to the highest peaks and the lowest valleys with astonishing photography and incredible detail.

Planet Earth features the most impressive footage I’ve ever seen. Each episode runs about 50 minutes and is themed by a geographical region rather than a generalized location. Episode titles include “Caves,” “Mountains,” “Fresh Water,” and so on. The episodes feature each environmental locale with footage from various parts of the world, showcasing the variances of wildlife found in those locations.

At the end of each episode, “The Diaries” describe the tactics used by the photographers and producers to gather the footage. One highlight is the capturing of extremely rare footage of the snow leopard, as the team stakes out the location for several days before even capturing a glimpse of the rare animal.

Planet Earth uses the latest technology and contains some of the most stunning visuals ever seen on screen. Its eleven episodes are enchanting from start to finish. The series discusses the need for change in the world, but the narrative is never domineering. Instead, Planet Earth focuses on the splendour of the planet and hopes that by displaying the magnificence of nature, more people will be compelled to learn more about the wonderful world.

As Attenborough says in the final frame of the series, "We can now destroy or we can cherish – the choice is ours."

The Blue Planet: Seas of Life

With Planet Earth being a tough act to follow, The BBC Natural History Collection features a series entirely dedicated to the deep oceans of the earth. The Blue Planet: Seas of Life is a five-disc set originally from 2001. Put together by Planet Earth producer Alistair Fothergill and his BBC team, this series grabbed two Emmy Awards.

Like the organization of Planet Earth, this set places its footage within geographical regions. Episodes are dedicated to “Frozen Seas,” “Coral Seas,” and “Coasts.” The underwater photography on this set is extraordinary, featuring distinct images of some of the strangest creatures from the deepest parts of the ocean. The footage on The Blue Planet is second to none and serves as a reminder of the importance of our oceans.

The set features an all-new fifth disc featuring bonus material not available on the original release. With four specials (“Amazon Abyss,” “Between the Tides,” “Antarctica,” and “Dive to Shark Volcano”), the bonus disc fleshes out the series.

The photography here is up to the usual BBC standards, employing landmark techniques to capture particularly rare footage. The footage of the penguins in the “Frozen Seas” episode is dramatic, as the journey of the Emperor penguin is depicted with exquisite detail and animation. Other episodes feature similar adventures, each narrated excitedly by David Attenborough.

The Life of Mammals

The third series featured in the anthology is The Life of Mammals, a four-disc look at the 4000 species that have outlived dinosaurs. This series, originally from 2002, is organized somewhat differently than the other two. The episodes focus on a slightly chronological element, featuring an agenda of design with the first introductory episode “A Winning Design” and building that theme through the subsequent nine episodes.

Again featuring never-before-seen footage, The Life of Mammals is an incredible sight. The series takes us from the largest mammal, the blue whale, to the smallest, the pygmy shrew. The journey from land to land is colossal in scope and provides a priceless educational tool for all ages. The multiplicity of mammals is given major attention, with loads of detailed narration from Attenborough and over 500 minutes of footage.

The visual recording of kangaroos giving birth is staggeringly beautiful, as is the glimpse inside the nest of a platypus. With such unparalleled footage, it’s hard to believe any natural history program can come close to the magic found on The Life of Mammals.

The Life of Mammals also features behind-the-scenes featurettes and fact files for those interested in digging even deeper into the lives of these incredible creatures. With so many highlights to the series, this is a more than suitable addition to this huge box set.

The Life of Birds

Closing out The BBC Natural History Collection is The Life of Birds. A generous three-disc collection featuring over 580 minutes of our feathered and not-so-feathered friends, The Life of Birds is a terrifically vibrant and amazing look at the creatures that have fascinated us since the dawn of history.

This is the oldest series in the compilation, having first aired in the UK in October of 1998. This series discusses the evolution and habits of birds with intelligence and insight, offering glimpses into the habitats of some of the world’s rarest birds. Fascinating information from the series’ first episode, “To Fly or Not to Fly,” describes the evolution of birds and the possible origin of how they took to the skies for the first time.

Whether the series is covering vultures, eagles, hawks, finches, or parrots, Attenborough’s narrative is always hospitable and informative. The extraordinary footage of the birds is greatly instructive, as the habits and patterns are examined and scrutinized with care and attention. One highlight is the amazing footage of a nocturnal kiwi foraging for food on a New Zealand beach.


The BBC Natural History Collection is the quintessential anthology for lovers of natural history. With modern technology, astonishing footage, rare glimpses of rare animals, excellent narration by David Attenborough, and highly entertaining bonus features, this set is one of the best collections of natural history specials ever assembled. It is the ideal gift for the nature lover in your family and the perfect package for anyone with a passion for this fascinating world.

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