BBC miniseries 'Life' is a stunning look at survival

by Verne Gay

Newsday (MCT)

18 March 2010


REASON TO WATCH: The BBC Natural History Unit strikes again! Oprah Winfrey narrates.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Four years in the making, 11 hours in the viewing, the one consistent bedrock theme that ties all of “Life” together is survival. How do species adapt to survive? What are some of their unique skills and strategies? Or, as Winfrey observes, “in life there are no guarantees ... survival has always been a struggle, and one demanding extraordinary ingenuity.”

Sunday’s first hour (8-9 p.m. EDT) is a grab-bag of ingenuity. We see cheetahs taking down an ostrich; a Venus flytrap doing its thing; an insect that grows eyes on long projections because, as Winfrey tells us, “the female loves a bug with really long stalks.”

MY SAY: To observe that Discovery/BBC’s 2006 “Planet Earth” was among the most beautiful and hypnotic creations in the history of television verges on understatement. It was landmark TV that took full advantage of advances in photographic technology and a newfangled one called “high definition.” Sadly — and perhaps unfairly — the equally gorgeous “Life” seems a little old hat by comparison. It’s more intimate in scale — in recognition that most life on earth is intimate in scale — and faster-paced.

“Life,” like life, doesn’t tarry. The octopus that dies after spending a year nursing 100,000 eggs under the watchful gaze of a BBC camera? Her close-up lasts just about four minutes, and then on to the next story of survival. Meanwhile, Winfrey proves that she really is good at everything TV-related. Her voice is soothing and warm — plus, there’s undeniable pleasure to be had in hearing the Queen of All Media declare that “the pebble toad isn’t the only hungry creature wandering the Tepui of Venezuela.”

BOTTOM LINE: Another stunning beauty — but you may have the sneaking suspicion you’ve seen some of this before in other nature documentaries that revel in the life-and-death struggles of the veldt, or deep sea, or Tepui of Venezuela.



Sundays at 8 p.m. EDT on Discovery, this Sunday through April 18.

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