Life picks up where the groundbreaking Planet Earth series left off. Produced by the same people at the BBC — and with the same painfully patient, high-definition filming approach — this 10-part series (aired on Discovery starting in November) focuses on the struggle among animals and plants to live, to adapt, to compete, to eat. The project — filmed over three years, on all seven continents, using 70 camera crews to shoot 200 different species — is, while not as shockingly novel as its forebear, still spectacular.
Take a seemingly simple scene in the “Birds” episode, in which the male Vogelkop Bowerbird constructs a decorative tableau from beetles, dung, lowers and sticks in order to woo a mate. It’s charming, yes. It was also nearly impossible to film, requiring a photographer to spend three weeks in a tiny tent, waiting for just the right shot.
The “Primates” episode features one of the most unbelievable shots in the series, as we see a bug silhouetted on the opposite side of a backlit palmetto frond, then watch as the shadow of a spectral tarsier appears in the distance and pounces down upon the hapless insect. Perfectly timed, perfectly framed.
Constantly, you ind yourself asking, “How did they get that shot?” How could they have been there at the exact moment when the pebble toad tumbled down that cliff? When the chameleon launched its long tubular tongue to snatch that dragonfly?
You’ll ind some answers in the extensive behind-the-scenes footage. Patience is one. Technology — both high and low — is another. A soaring aerial shot through a forest canopy was made possible by some cable and a couple of bicycle wheels. A 60-second shot portraying an English forest’s yearlong growth cycle, on the other hand, took two years, 96 layers of digital footage and a TV studio covered in blue screens.
Almost as unbelievable as all this? Asking Oprah Winfrey to narrate the American version. If you’re going to spend 10 hours exploring the planet with the BBC, spend them with the British version’s far more regal David Attenborough.