Review: Life on Discovery a cinematography tour de force

The latest elaborate collaboration between the BBC and Discovery will begin March 21.  The visually arresting effort “Life,” like its predecessor "Planet Earth," is an 11-part series that is the new standard for all naturist documentaries.

This series is so very intimate, thanks to the dedicated work of cinematographers who have captured the world's diverse animal, aquatic and insect species engaged in every sort of behavior, some amorous, some with deadly intent for food.

The quality of this series will be a boon for anyone with an HD television, or fancy home theater.  Even on regular TV sets, the series is sharp and revelatory.

The schedule initially is as follows:

        March 21, 8PM - Challenges of Life
        March 21, 9PM - Reptiles & Amphibians
        March 28, 8PM - Mammals
        March 28, 9PM - Fish
        April 4, 8PM - Birds
        April 11, 9PM - Insects
Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, we go grass level, subterranean, underwater, in the trees and up in the skies with our "prey," learning more about the bounty of creatures this planet is home to.

Subsequent episodes will also see "Creatures of the Deep," and "Hunters and Hunted."

This is a pleasantly assaulting barrage of imagery as "Life" often is a platform the the cruelties of nature: The prey and the predator, the luck and the lesser so. 

The details mesmerize, the information fills our imagination for what is often a mystery, as these evolved behaviors and patterns in nature escape us in our everyday lives.

In the "Reptiles and Amphibians" episode, a new found respect is earned by Komodo dragons, who work in tandem to stalk and poison a massive water buffalo.  Their languid, lethal attack makes you wonder about other documentaries currently airing, like "Fatal Attractions" on Animal Planet, where owners of these exotics are eaten by their fierce charges.

The open seas are a treacherous, magnificent stage to observe so many species evade and attack each other. 


At the past winter press tour, Monsters and Critcs asked executive producer Mike Gunton about the cinematography employed in the series.

"One of the things that is very important in a series like this is actually getting access to the animals.  That is one of the hardest things, and it comes from a number of approaches.  It very much depends on the type of story you are after, when you are filming.  For example, if you are filming Komodo dragons, you have one approach, working with a very unpredictable and dangerous animal.  If you are working with butterflies, you can get much closer.  They are not going to do you any harm.  If you are working with Humpback whales as our DP Roger (Munns) is, it's another approach.  We spend time with the scientists, people who know these animals incredibly well because not only can they give you insight into how to deal with them, but they often see them day in and day out, and the animals are often habituated and used to human presence.  So that gives you a chance to get a bit closer too."

Cinematographer Roger Munns was with Mr. Gunton at the Life panel at the TCAs, and added this regarding the tricky nature of getting these never before seen behaviors.

"We were shooting in Tonga in the South Pacific, where the humpbacks migrate to.  They spend their summer in the Antarctic feeding, and then they migrate up to Tonga where the waters are very shallow and calm and there are some sheltered bays.   That is where the mothers come to give birth.  We were lucky enough while we were looking for the heat run that we found probably a two or three day old calf with its mother.  And in that situation, the mother would just sort of hang motionless with her pec fins down, while her baby needs to go up for air quite often, so her calf will come down, nuzzle underneath her fin and then swim up to the surface."

Munns continued with his intimate tale of a new humpback mother. "We, myself and my safety diver, had just an absolutely amazing intimate experience with this calf, which was so friendly and had kind of the mind of a newborn puppy, but it was a two-ton puppy! It was sort of just sunning itself around doing loop de loops in front of us, and coming very close towards us.  In the making of this segment of Life, there are some very funny shots of my safety diver being chased by this baby whale.  But it was a really beautiful experience, slightly nervous for us because we had the mother, who again was 40 tons and was hanging down below and keeping a watchful beady eye on her calf."

"You never want to make a mother angry.  I know that."

"Life" at its very core reveals this maternal truism, and the heartbreak of a lost herd member, the trepidations of a young goat that must bravely jump off a precipice on its own for the first time, or the sorrow of watching a mother Octopus sacrifice her life so that her babies have a chance to live.

Life goes on, despite emotions and heartbreak.  Discovery producers and crew have captured the gamut vividly, as Oprah narrates our journey like none other before.

Further Reading on M&C

Oprah Winfrey Biography - - Oprah Winfrey Movies -