I was sent a copy of the BBC Earth series “Life” on Blu-ray disc and asked if I’d review it and put up a gallery of images from the show. Sure. No problem. The folder I looked through must have had another 20 or so images I could have run, and they were all great. Over at DVD Beaver, they’ve got some gorgeous HD screenshots that are totally worth saving. Just as visual art, “Life” is worthwhile for any owner of a Blu-ray player. I’d go so far as to say it is essential.
And, yes, you can quote me on that. “Amazing and essential.”
Lately, my sons have been seriously campaigning to spend more time in my office during work hours. Much of what I’ve been watching lately is not appropriate for them, however, making it difficult to let them hang out in here. With “Life,” I’m confident that they can handle it, and we’ve been using the educational value of the series as a way of convincing my wife to let them watch. She’s got very different standards for what Toshi can see, and it’s been a real negotiation in the last few months. I think a key part of Toshi watching a film is getting his mother involved in watching it with him. We all went to “Toy Story 3” last week, for example, and the conversation as we walked across the Disney lot afterwards was one of the best we’ve had in a while. There are some big adult moments in that film, but as she talked to him, it was obvious that he handled them well, which made her feel better.
With “Life,” she looked at about three minutes of it before she signed off and told him he could watch it. It’s nature in HD. Easy sell.
What I didn’t expect is the reaction my two-year-old son Allen has had to the show. He’s started marching into the office several times a day, dragging his little blue chair behind him, barking out “Daddy! Put the bugs!” By which he means the episode “Insects,” which was the first one we watched. It blew his mind. He talked to the TV. He yelled at the bugs. He said, “Daddy!” a total of 97, 422 times in the hour it took to watch the episode. His energy level right now is insane. He is like what would happen if you crossed a hummingbird and a teddy bear.
Teddy bears, incidentally, may be one of the few species of bears that do not appear in “Life.” Just to be clear.
So now Allen wants to see the bugs every day and Toshi and I have been watching the other episodes one after another. And the whole time, Allen wanders in and out and seems to like fish but not as much as bugs and loves to call any animal on four legs “kitty cat!” Meanwhile, Toshi seems to be getting the whole “circle of life” thing loud and clear from the show based on the questions he’s asking. We were watching an episode about sea creatures and in part of the episode, starfish eat a seal. It’s time lapse, but it’s still fairly graphic. Toshi understood what we were seeing. “They’re eating him on the inside, and on his skin, and in his eye,” he said, not terribly upset by what he was watching. I think the show has taught him one of life’s great truths and a mantra from the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks: “everybody gotta eat.”
The production value on the show is incredible. If you’re a fan of this type of programming (and “Planet Earth” specifically), you’ll recognize some of the footage in the series, but not enough that it’s a problem. This series has its own POV, its own type of storytelling. “Life” is all about the way things live, and in many cases, the way they survive. Each episode tells several stories built around a common theme or type of life form. “Hunters and Hunted.” “Mammals.” “Insects,” as I mentioned. “Mammals.” The first episode, “Challenges of Life,” is basically a highlight reel for the other episodes, and the last episode “Plants” is encoded in 1080i instead of 1080p for some reason. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. This is one of those home video releases that people use to show off their system. Like “Top Gun” for home theater guys in the ’80s. Or “Aliens” on laserdisc, that big blue box. This is a disc you put on when you want to impress upon someone that Blu-ray really is the best sound and picture possible.
You won’t be wildly surprised by “Life.” It is exactly what it sounds like. And purists may prefer the BBC Earth release for the UK, which features the original David Attenborough narration instead of the American substitution, Oprah Winfrey. But no matter which version you guy, you’ll be blown away by how great the world around us can look when captured with the highest quality cameras available and then dumped onto the best home video format so far.
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