Friday, August 13, 2010

Life from BBC Earth

For the past several weeks, Bonnie and I have been watching episodes of Life, a nature series from the BBC narrated by David Attenborough. Life is much like its predecessor Planet Earth in that there are many spectacular landscapes and it shows many amazing organism behaviors. While Planet Earth was organized around habitats, Life episodes focus on species categories, such as birds, mammals, and insects. There is also an introductory episode on the challenges faced by living things. A later episode investigates the behaviors of hunters and their prey.

While being dazzled by the beauty of jungles, mountains, and seascapes, I enjoyed listening to David Attenborough relate each organism's story. He always seems so happy to be telling us what researchers have discovered and filmed for the first time. Some segments reminded us of classic scenes from Attenborough programs that we have been watching for decades. Bonnie particularly remembered how he favored male bowerbirds of New Guinea who build fantastic structures from grasses, mushrooms, feathers, rocks, and other natural or found materials to attract mates.

Each episode ends with a special "On Location" segment that explains how the Life cameramen and camerawomen got their difficult shots. The best two may have been in the plants and the primates episodes. The plants episode "On Location" explains an elaborate time lapse shot combining a rocky formation and studio shots. The primates "On Location" explains how a camerawomen patiently waited for chimpanzees to exhibit tool using behaviors. The final shot of the series shows chimps walking in a row, each turning in recognition of the camera as they pass. The effect is stunning. They are totally aware of being observed.

The primary message of Life seems to be that species adapt through experiment and thought. While instinct may guide individual organisms to a point, there always seems to be surprising innovations. We are not the only intelligent life forms on the planet, and our neighbors deserve respect. But the message is always understated and never preachy, making Life is pleasure to watch.

Life. BBC Worldwide, 2010. 10 episodes on 4 discs. ISBN 1419888579.

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