Life on Earth (Blu-ray) (1979)

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Released 5-Dec-2012

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Making Of-Wildtrack: Interview with David Attenborough
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1979
Running Time 725:50
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By David Attenborough
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring David Attenborough
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Edward Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 (1920Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 1080i
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Sir David Attenborough’s first great analysis of Life On Earth as presented on BBC TV in 1979 was a breakthrough in the presentation of nature documentaries. From single celled bacteria, to the greatest animals that ever walked or swam - the footage was breathtaking for the time and has not lost any of its impact in the subsequent thirty or so years. Who can forget the legendary encounter with the gorillas of Rwanda, or the trek of the emperor penguins. It is footage like this, and the idiosyncratic but passionate presentation skills that made Attenborough a legend, and probably the most well-known and respected wildlife advocate of any time. Following on from earlier natural history presentations such as Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, Attenborough refined his presentations to demonstrate nature or actions through spoken explanations and footage from potentially a number of locations. At times the filming techniques would use artificial props to create surroundings conducive to filming a specific action, however in nearly all cases the obtained footage required supreme patience and a lot of luck.

     Life on Earth was the beginning of a new documentary style where, for the first time, it was possible to fly to locations anywhere in the world reasonably efficiently and economically. Attenborough’s descriptions could be interspersed with footage from anywhere on the globe, and bring the World together in a way that hadn’t been seen before. For the first time the Earth could be seen as a globe with regions connected by water or land – not as separate little worlds.

     Disc 1:

     The Infinite Variety (54:17)

     David explains the theories of Darwin and how natural selection and evolution resulted in the huge diversity of species ranging from the jungles of South America to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

     Building Bodies (53:45)

     Limestone rocks in Morocco from 600 million years ago contain the fossils of sea-living invertebrates which evolved into shelled animals such as molluscs which eventually found their way onto land.

     The First Forests (53:21)

     The earliest plants mostly comprised of ground hugging stem-less varieties such as mosses and liverworts. Plant cell structure began to strengthen leading to the development of stems and trunks with plants growing taller. As invertebrate sea creatures grew legs and took to the land their need to reach higher led to the development of insect like bodies and wings.

     The Swarming Hordes (54:27)

     The symbiosis between plants and insects is explored where both forms of life operate to mutual benefit through food and pollination. Some insects such as bees and ants overcome the limitations of small size by forming large colonies.

     Disc 2:

     Conquest of the Waters (54:30)

     The evolution of fish has resulted in a multitude of variety from tiny parasitic fishes who have changed little over the ages to huge predators with gills and the advantages of buoyancy.

     Invasion of the Land (55:01)

     Some fish begin to form lungs and legs and evolve into the amphibious form we are familiar with now. Frogs, salamanders, and limbless caecilians have become highly successful without the need for revolutionary changes over millions of years.

     Victors of the Dry Land (54:34)

     Reptiles are not as restricted as their amphibian ancestors and so become the dominant animal on Earth. They lack temperature control however and so are forced to use sun and shade to regulate body heat and are excluded from colder regions.

     Disc 3:

     Lords of the Air (53:37)

     Feathers give the advantage of insulation and flight, and so birds evolving from reptiles were able to take to the air and move across vast distances. Migratory birds today traverse across the globe in search of food and breeding grounds.

     The Rise of the Mammals (53:37)

     Ancient forms of mammal evolved with fur and a warm blood which gave them an advantage over the previously dominant reptiles. Marsupials and monotremes (platypus and echidna) flourished in what came to be known as Australia, however it was in the Northern Hemisphere that the most prolific of mammals formed – those that gave birth to fully formed young.

     Theme and Variations (52:55)

     Mammals evolved into a huge variation and also find their way back into the oceans. Aquatic mammals such as whales and dolphins supersede the sea-dwelling dinosaurs with some evolving sophisticated navigation and communication skills.

     Disc 4:

     The Hunters and Hunted (54:21)

     The herbivores which populated most of the land area were preyed on by carnivores and so developed preservation skills. Some used camouflage, some used size and armour, while others gathered in herds where there was safety in numbers.

     Life in the Trees (54:10)

     Primates such as monkeys have hands which grip and forward facing eyes. This left them able to move through tress as well as on the land, and to manipulate their surroundings.

     The Compulsive Communicators (54:03)

     The appearance of human-like mammals begins in Africa where some ten million years ago apes ventured into open grassland looking for food. The open surroundings led to an upright posture, and their hands were dexterous enough to form tools. Eventually these human ancestors learnt how to cooperate with each other, to hunt, to use fire, and to manage their surroundings.

     Life On Earth Blu-ray includes four discs containing the thirteen episodes with an extra included on the fourth disc.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The video is presented in MPEG-4 AVC high definition 1080i 1.33:1 widescreen. This remaster of the original series is nothing short of amazing and a total revelation to anyone who might have had this series on DVD or VHS. It is clear that the producers of this Blu-ray have gone back to the original film source and cleaned up any defects before mastering. Close-up detail is exquisite with a depth of shadow and colour that belies the age of the footage. Contrast levels are excellent and the colours are intense although perhaps a bit oversaturated at times. Presumably the original source would have used high quality cameras, however given the filming difficulties that would have been involved and the subsequent development of digital technologies it is amazing what the cinematographers have achieved without HD technology. Another thing to consider is that smaller 16mm cameras were used due to weight and size considerations. One “downside” from this is that the film grain is more obvious in high definition, and the 1.33:1 aspect is a bit annoying to anyone expecting 1.78:1 widescreen. I do think however that leaving the original film uncropped is far preferable to altering it and losing some of the horizontal image. There is a bit of telecine wobble in the title sequences and some interlacing artefacts but these are minor quibbles in an otherwise admirable effort.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     A DTS Master Audio 2.0 audio track encoded at around 1,800 Kb/s is the only offering and it is a very good one. For whatever reason the menu selections indicate an audio selection however there is only one choice. I suspect this is a hangover from a DVD menu which possibly was not updated for the transformation to Blu-ray.

     The upgrade here from DVD is not so marked however it is definitely better with Attenborough’s voice clear and precise. The score by Edward Williams matches the presentation style with a combination of classical and electronic sounds that is synchronised with the on-screen imagery. Being a 2.0 track there is not the vibrancy of sounds as experienced on, say, Attenborough’s Planet Earth, nevertheless this is still a pleasing effort from a limited source.

     English subtitles were available which were largely accurate although I noticed a few omitted words and changes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

     Static menu with audio prompts. This is the first professionally produced menu I've encountered with voice prompts. Maybe this is for people who can't read? Anyway - the menu itself on discs 1-3 is plain in the extreme. I could have knocked it out in five minutes using a free authoring program. Also for whatever reason the menu on disc 4 is completely different in that there are no voice prompts after the initial menu screen and the menu itself is quite attractively designed with motion video background and the Life On Earth musical theme looping. I suspect the latter disc was re-authored and updated to include the Wildtrack interview however my understanding is that this extra was included on the BBC DVD box set. It's a pity the first 3 discs weren't given similar treatment as they look cheap and nasty. The absence of an alternative audio track despite menu prompts to select an alternative audio track also suggests the Blu-ray menu might have been adapted poorly from a DVD version. BBC should have done better than this.

Disc 4: Wildtrack: Interview with David Attenborough (23:12)

     MPEG-2 SD video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio at 192 kb/s. Attenborough is interviewed by Tony Soper for the Wildtrack BBC TV natural history program. This video is clearly not remastered from the original with lots of film artefacts on show but not so much to be distracting. The show itself is quite clunkily produced but this is typical for the times. The content nevertheless includes lots of interesting insights from Attenborough regarding the concept of the series, the planning and production, and the innovative filming techniques required. The presentation includes input from specialist wildlife cameraman Peter Parks, and Wildtrack co-presenter Sue Ingle.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    At time of writing this review Life On Earth had not been released in the U.S. in Region A Blu-ray format. This version seems identical to the UK Region B release.

Summary

     You won’t get stunning visuals as seen in Planet Earth or Frozen Planet from a thirty plus year old documentary, however Life On Earth in Blu-ray is a worthy upgrade if you have a DVD or VHS source. If you haven’t yet seen it then be aware that this is Sir David Attenborough’s first venture into the “Life”, series and as such is a historic series that every nature documentary lover must have.

     The video quality is very good given the source.

     The audio quality is very good given the source.

     The extra is interesting but nothing new. The menu design really should have been updated.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mike B (read my bio)
Monday, February 25, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910 and Panasonic BD-35, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic TH-58PZ850A. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
Amplificationdenon AVR-4311 pre-out to Elektra Theatron 7 channel amp
SpeakersB&W LCR600 centre and 603s3 mains, Niles in ceiling surrounds, SVS PC-Ultra Sub, Definitive Technology Supercube II Sub

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