Life (Blu-ray Review)

When it comes to documentaries, the British Broadcasting Corporation, otherwise known as the BBC, strives to not only to provide a high quality production, but the best that can be offered.  The 2007 release of Planet Earth was truly a sight to behold and up to that point, was arguably the greatest nature documentary of all time.  Not only did the crew manage to capture the beauty of nature, they also managed to grab footage never before seen, ranging from highly endangered creatures to behaviors of desperation. You would think the BBC would be satisfied with such a monumental undertaking, but they decided to follow it up.  Their latest Blu-ray release is an extension of sorts from Planet Earth, simply titled life.


It’s difficult to classify or label life’s status when considering Planet Earth.  Is it a sequel?  Well, we’re talking documentaries here so the term ‘sequel’ doesn’t really apply.  This is more or less an extension of its precursor, without the concept of a story.  The BBC could have easily titled this Planet Earth: Volume 2 and it would have made perfect sense.  Nevertheless, life is a deserving title to this ten-episode, four-disc set containing over 8 hours of footage.  The material is educational, entertaining, and once again, holds several minutes of rare moments in the animal world.

Unlike Planet Earth though, this piece goes into much greater detail on explaining the how’s and why’s of the animal kingdom.  For instance, I bet you didn’t know that a chameleon’s tongue travels at a speed of 50 feet per second or that the Japanese mudskipper breathes through its skin.  These are just a few of the curiously interesting bits of information and visuals you will witness when watching life.  This series left me in absolute awe as the little miracles that surround us never cease to amaze me and many of the scenes are so clear and inviting that you would think you are viewing them through a window.

The Blu-ray is actually available in two options; the U.S. version with Oprah Winfrey narrating and the British version with David Attenborough narrating.  In all honesty, I was not crazy with Oprah doing the talking before I watched either version, as I would have much preferred the Attenborough performance.  After all, the guy was stellar in his duties on the Planet Earth series.  Still, the U.S. version is what I was provided so it is that which I will grade.

In the end, Oprah did a decent job with her vocal delivery, carrying audiences through the wonderful worlds experienced on this title.  She doesn’t have the dedicated narrator voice the Mr. Attenborough does, but she gets the point across and has done better than most celebrity narrators I’ve come across.  If you would rather experience life without the interference of a human voice, you can always watch the footage minus the narration.


Disc 1
• Challeneges of life
• Reptiles and Amphibians
• Mammals

Disc 2
• Fish
• Birds
• Insects

Disc 3
• Hunters and Hunted
• Creatures of the Deep
• Plants

Disc 4
• Primates
• The Making of life
• Deleted Scenes



Displayed in a VC-1 encode with a 1.77:1 aspect ratio, life is easily a top 5 example of 1080p resolution.  The colors are lush and vivid, the footage is crisp, and the detail is uncanny as viewers’ eyes will stay glued to the picture quality.  The slow motion footage is highly complimented by the high resolution picture as is every little speck of dirt on a rainforest leaf or the stray plankton floating through a Pacific current.

It really does not get any better than this unless you grab your boots or scuba gear and go on location with the series’ cameramen.  The visual performance is definitely the high point on the four discs.  One problem I had with Planet Earth was that it offered some of the best and worst Blu-ray had to offer in terms of appearance.  There was incredible detail throughout, yet some instances contained a great big distraction of visual noise.  Now take the first part of that, minus the second, and you have the video quality of life.


The sound is delivered mildly, in that this a front speaker-heavy audio presentation.  The rear channels are used but not enough.  For example, when I see 200,000 penguins in Antarctica and they’re all squawking, I want to hear squawking behind me, in front of me, to the sides, etc., not just a slight carrying of sound through those rear channels.  You can forget about the subwoofer as that piece of equipment doesn’t get much employment at all here.

When carrying the DTS-HD Master Audio label, I thought there would be better use of a surround sound system as a whole.  Some of the scenes have an all-encompassing experience, but not most.  Even so, that majority of the masses will not be disappointed.  You won’t be straining to hear anything and the overall track is intelligible.  Audiophiles, however, will be left wanting more.

Special Features  

For starters, I am very happy to report that all the extras are in 1080i or p high definition.  That seems to be a big hurdle for production teams to get over.  I’m not sure why they can’t grasp it, but if I have a high def disc, don’t give me standard def pieces-parts!  Fortunately, BBC had the sense to give us watchable extras.  Each episode has its own “Making of” featurette that can be found on the same disc as the actual episode.  These featurettes are all narrated by David Attenborough and all hover around the 11-minute realm as far as runtime is concerned.  Disc 4 contains a segment piece of deleted scenes which are narrated by Oprah Winfrey.  As for the quality of any of these extras, they are as good as gold, not straying from the quality of the actual documentary.

Making Of…
• Challenges of life (11:03)
• Reptiles & Amphipians (10:59)
• Mammals (11:02)
• Fish (10:58)
• Birds (11:00)
• Insects (10:56)
• Hunters & Hunted (10:27)
• Creatures of the Deep (11:10)
• Plants (10:37)
• Primates (10:59)
Deleted Scenes (18:09)

Final Thoughts  

With a near magical display of earth’s creatures, there is no passing up life on the store shelf or in your online shopping cart.  Providing a sole focus on creatures and not splitting time between creatures and environments (as in Planet Earth), viewers familiar with Planet Earth can enjoy more of that series’ style here as well as the more devoted animal focus.  Newcomers to BBC’s line of nature productions are truly in for a treat with the beauty and education in store for them.  Young and old, casual or conservationist, life offers a majestic and rare look at some of the wonders of the animal kingdom around us.


Bring home Life today on Blu-ray!


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