The Human Body (1998)

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Released 7-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Making Of
DVD-ROM Extras-The Human Body Sampler
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 344:01 (Case: 393)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Peter Georgi
Emma De'ath
Robert Thompson

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Robert Winston
Case Slip Case
RPI $69.95 Music Elizabeth Parker

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This multi-award winning documentary about The Human Body is a fascinating program that takes you on a remarkable journey by taking cameras to places they have never been before. The series not only looks at how our bodies are built and designed, but how we made our journey from bacterium to modern man and what has shaped our design to the way we are today. The series took over two years to put together for the BBC in 1998 and was shown not long after by our local ABC. More recently, the series has been shown on Channel 10 and will no doubt continue to delight viewers for many years to come.

    The series is hosted by Professor Robert Winston who, with his gentlemanly manner and medical background (fertility doctor, scientist and professor no less), explains each complex topic in a way that is easy to digest and understand. The producers and behind-the-scenes experts are always looking for interesting ways to explain each topic which makes it an absolute pleasure to watch. Robert personally goes to great lengths, such as when he explains Morning Sickness by taking a rubber lifeboat into the English Channel during rough weather so the viewers get to watch him turn green.

    The series is presented as a three disc set with all seven actual episodes presented on the first two discs, which covers the body's journey from our conception to taking our last breath. The third disc covers the Making of The Human Body which shows the technology and techniques that were used to capture the incredible images.

    You will not only gain a greater understanding of yourself but will also pick up some trivia, such as that a crawling baby's top speed is 2 km/h  and they cover an average of 200 metres a day. In this lifetime, you will spend 3 1/2 years eating, kiss for 2 weeks, grow 28 metres of fingernails, 950 kilometres of hair on your head and 2 metres of hair up your nose. You will shed a disgusting 19 kilograms of skin, and have sex 2,580 times (but who is counting) with 5 different people. And in the time it takes you to read this entire review, you will lose around a quarter of a billion brain cells (hopefully not as a direct result of reading it!).

    Life Story is where Robert Winston explains the journey that he is about to take you on and what will be covered over the length of the series. Between his roller-coaster ride to symbolise the ups and downs of puberty to a visit to the oozing hot springs where life began, you know it's going to be an incredible ride.

    Follow Jeff and Phillippa from conception to the birth of their first child Bob in An Everyday Miracle. Learn why conception is the most dangerous part of your life, and the struggles that you must go through to even reach the first step. The couple openly discuss their concerns and joy throughout their entire pregnancy and this episode in particular would be well worth viewing by those who are expecting their first child. From experience, this tasteful and informative section captures aspects of pregnancy that the hospital-run Maternity Classes don't explain as well. You even get to see the birth of their child which makes for a great lead into the next section. And in case you were wondering, every day there are around 100 million acts of sexual intercourse taking place in the world resulting in around 910,000 conceptions.

    See what changes the body undergoes to enable us to take our First Steps in life. Covering the first four years of development, this is a compelling insight into our involuntary reflexes and their evolution as well as some interesting topics such as an explanation of how babies can breathe and drink milk at the same time (which would probably be the best time to teach them the didgeridoo). Parents with children in this age bracket will find the teething, walking and the ongoing development skills shown here of particular interest.

    Raging Teens follows a group of young boys and girls throughout their teenage years and captures the changes that the body undergoes through puberty. Its main focus, however, is on Beatrice and the changes she undergoes such as shopping, growing breasts, pubic hairs and her first period (her mother bought her some Chocolate Éclairs to help celebrate which must be a British thing). The boy's side covers testosterone and what changes it spurs in a lad's body such as facial hair, their voice cracking at the wrong time, and parts of the body that have until now lain dormant. You also learn that a pubic hair only grows for 6 months, which keeps it short, and is actually flat oval and not round which is why they curl.

    As the name suggests, Brain Power provides a detailed insight into the most complicated object in the universe. My favourite section was the one depicting how alcohol reacts with your brain and makes you do things that you probably shouldn't have. There are numerous graphical presentations which delve right inside your brain to show in different colours what each section of your brain is responsible for. We all know that the right half of your brain controls the left side of your body, but did you know that it only took 2 1/2 million years to evolve from our ape-like ancestors to humans, which is a relatively short time by evolutionary standards and would have involved an increase of 150,000 nerve cells every generation.

    As Time Goes By follows Bud and Viola from Kansas in their twilight years. The camera has not long been rolling and poor old Bud is picked on by the missus for losing his hair, getting rounder in the middle and only marrying Viola to clean, cart water and cook for him. This section really opens your eyes to what is yet to come and what makes us all age (some more gracefully than others), thanks in no small part to oxygen - the very thing that gives us life in the first place. You also gain a greater understanding into why our senses such as hearing and sight start to deteriorate when the couple leave the farm and take their first trip to the big smoke (New York). What makes the visit to the city even more interesting is that it is the first time Bud (78) and Viola (63) have seen skyscrapers, subways and noisy streets except on TV. The noisy streets provide a good backdrop for the camera to zoom into Bud's ear and down his ear canal to discuss how hearing works.

    The End of Life is a sobering section where we watch the last days and inevitable death of Herbie from stomach cancer, and how his physical life is undone. It discusses why the Rate of Living Theory is no longer thought to be correct, which believed that 1 - 2 billion heartbeats was the limit for all living things, so a hare with a rapid heart rate has a shorter life than a tortoise with a slower heart rate.

    This section really made me angry at modern day medicine and doctors in general. After Herbie had decided he had had enough suffering, the poor guy wanted to have an injection to end his life. By this stage, his tumour was the size of two soccer balls. In the end, he could barely breathe and his entire existence consisted of lying in bed trying to find the strength to blink, but the doctors looking after him kept pumping him full of drugs and in this case were seriously out of touch with reality. Wake up guys - you are people vets, not gods, and not saving a life but merely delaying the obvious!

    Claude Monet was used as an example to help explain cataracts and how they change the perception of colours and shapes around us. This also explains why Monet's paintings changed dramatically in style and colour during his lifetime. After an operation to remove a cataract in one eye, Monet was so shocked by the colour difference, especially in the reds and blues in the look of his more recent paintings, that he actually destroyed some of his previous images. The before and after images using his paintings gave a brilliant understanding of this condition that affects so many people.

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Transfer Quality


    The series is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 Enhanced. The Making Of documentary was shot in Full Screen.

    My expectations before watching this 3 DVD set was that it would have been shot entirely using digital cameras and transferred onto DVD such that it would capture the full quality of the body scans and special effects. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the entire series was affected by the periodic appearance of white film artefacts (for example at 2:02 in Raging Teens) which seemed more pronounced if the scene was shot outdoors.

    With the exception of Raging Teens and The End of Life, no other sections contained timing information, making it difficult to give exact locations for problems.

    Although I found the appearance of the film artefacts annoying, the overall transfer on all discs is clear and quite sharp. The numerous types of scans, ranging from CT scans in Brain Power to ultrasound scans in An Everyday Miracle are all easy to see and are of good quality. Best of all are the computer images used throughout the series - they do not suffer from MPEG artefacts or any other quality problems.

    The colour was very clear and vibrant, and no irregularities were noticed with the colour renditions. Even the internal scans were clear and did not appear drab.

    There were some nasty MPEG artefacts noted in Life Story during the helicopter ride around 2 minutes in, where the sky took on a chunky appearance. The colours in the sky do not merge gradually, but rather transitions appear abruptly in the sunset.

    In First Steps, the image takes on a grainy, pixelated appearance at around 17:40 which distracted from the main image itself. There are also a few white film artefacts here as well.

    At 2:50 in Raging Teens, there was some mild aliasing in the background and again on the play gym at 9:18. At 36:43 in Raging Teens, the picture had a grainy appearance which only lasted a few seconds until the scene changed, but this may have been inherent in the source material rather than a transfer problem.

    The only subtitles on this disc are in English. They were word-for-word the same as the script the presenter was working from. I actually found this track helpful to ascertain the spellings of many of the medical terms.

    Both of the programme discs are dual-layered, but I did not notice a layer change at any point. I can only assume that the various episodes are arranged onto separate layers.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The series is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with no noticeable background hiss or echo coming from the rear speakers. The dialogue was directed through the centre speaker with background music, when used, directed towards the left and right channels. I found that there were no scenes or areas within the series that really warranted the use of the surrounds, and they would have most likely detracted from the technical aspects of the presentation anyway.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times. Audio sync was not a problem at all with this transfer, and was completely spot on, although it must be said that any audio sync problems would be easily hidden under Robert Winston's thick moustache!

    During Raging Teens when the camera zooms in on Zack's voice box, the surrounds jump into use for a brief second and then lie dormant again. It came as quite a surprise because they had not been used up until this point. They are not used again until 11:55 in The End of Life as the cells are dying and again during the music score at 13:08 and 13:32. When they were used, the surround usage always fitted with the on-screen image, but certainly could catch you unawares.

    Like the surrounds, the subwoofer lay dormant throughout this series. It was not missed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras consist of the documentary The Making of The Human Body and a DVD-ROM feature. I found both of these sections even more fascinating at times that the series itself. You gain a greater understanding of the difficulties involved in filming a woman's ovulation, showing blood pumping around your body, and magnifying skin 1,000 times as well as appreciating a remarkable view from inside the human brain.


    The menu was very easy to navigate through each of the titles in the series, but lacked detail once you wanted to pick a particular section within any given title. Although the menu did break down the titles into their various topics, the menu only presented these as an icon. Additional wording alongside such as "Involuntary Diving Reflex" would have made it easier to find a particular section, and would also have matched the title track headings printed inside the disc's cover.

Featurette - Making Of

    The opening sequence shows some amusing scenes where 30 people spent 12 hours in a swimming pool to film the baby shot that was used in First Steps. This is where they test the diving reflex that we all have up until 6 months of age. The babies don't seem to cooperate with production schedules, lighting or floating right side up for the camera, which is why the producers resorted to some remarkable filming techniques.

    The intricacies of an SEM (scanning electron microscope) are unravelled here as well. I didn't know that these machines required the objects to be scanned to have all their moisture removed and then coated in 24 carat gold. These machines are capable of 300,000 x magnification.

    At 30:30, you get to see how a Time Slice Camera was used during the making of the series, which involves setting up 120 side-by-side cameras to take a rotating still image that is just spectacular. It is the same technology that a lot of TV commercials are now starting to adopt.

DVD ROM Extras - The Human Body Sampler

    The DVD-ROM portion of the boxed set uses Quicktime to display its graphical and Explorer segments. If you have an earlier version or no Quicktime installed, you have the option of installing the necessary programs from the DVD-ROM drive before continuing onto the main menu. This is handy, as you don't need to find or download these programs yourself - they are all neatly contained on the disc.

    This section alone would be a valuable addition to any school library. Not only does it delve deeper into eight key sections of our bodies, but the Explorer feature lets you interact with the body's various organs.

    The sampler covers Reproduction, Respiration, Circulation, Digestion, Nervous System, Senses, Defences and Muscle & Bone in detail. Each contains a mix of audio and video clips from the series as well as the computer animation and interaction sections.

    From the Respiration section you can see how sneezing, coughing and singing make your voice box react in different ways. A slide rule allows you to adjust the pitch of singing to understand exactly what your body does when you sing away in the shower each morning.

    Digestion takes you inside the body and stops at each major junction so you can make the animated throat swallow, churn the stomach and add bile. The other sections also have similar features for each topic.

    The graphical sections all contain heavy MPEG artefacting and are rather chunky in appearance. There are no clean merges of the colour shades and they come across in blocks rather than as smooth transitions. This is quite common in this type of material, however, so that relatively slow computers can still view the segments without long pauses in the flow of the audio that would otherwise disrupt the voice-over.

    The narration by Geoff Watts is clear and easy to understand at all times.

R4 vs R1

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

    This series is not available in R1 at this time.


    Overall, I found The Human Body to be a fascinating insight into how the human body functions. No part of our lives are left out of this series, which spans from conception to our last breath. It is by far the best documentary I have ever seen and was presented magically by a speaker that was passionate about his subject. Because it has been broken down into the major sections of life (and death), you can concentrate on viewing only those topics that interest you if you so desire.

    Personally, it has given me an incredible insight and a better understanding of what is happening to my 16 month old and how she is developing both inside and out. I am confident that one day she will also sit down and watch the series and learn to understand things about herself and others around her. In my opinion, this series is a must for every new or expecting family.

    Although there are film artefacts throughout the presentation, they do not stop you from enjoying the series.

    The extras are excellent and will appeal to those who are interested in the technical side of the series or have a DVD-ROM.

    The Human Body is a must-have for every school, library and young family.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Peter Mellor (read my bio)
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer XV-DV55, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe 72cm. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer XV-DV55
SpeakersPioneer S-DV55ST-K Satellite wall mouted 5-Speaker System; Pioneer S-DV55SW-K Powered Subwoofer

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