Life Story

4 out of 5

Executive Producer: Mike Gunton

If you’ve seen one of these BBC narrated-by-Attenborough docs then you know what to expect… which isn’t at all a sleight, because, yes, I know what to expect, but I will always return.

‘Life Story’s angle is to try and split its shtick up into 6 distinct portions of a living creature’s growth cycle – Birth, Growing Up, Finding Shelter, Gaining Power (as an individual, as a group), Mating, and Parenting.  While some of these episodes divide up pretty cleanly – the first few, primarily – things get a little wishy-washy as part of the growing up process can involve pieces from most of the other stages, and so elements could easily be shuffled around by simply narrating them differently.  One must also be aware (thanks to the wide, wide world of youtube videos) how selective some of this footage can be, giving humanistic or sympathetic attributes to creatures when those behaviors featured are perhaps only those that lend themselves to an overall positive narrative.  However, this is where Attenborough’s skill as a narrator almost always elevates the material, as his tone seems to present the images mostly with a reverence simply for their existence, acknowledging the violence and dangers and deaths that lurk just around the corner.

While ‘Life Story’ still cannot approach the immersive feel of the still impressive ‘Planet Earth,’ there are several bits and pieces that are handled well to make this better than an average nature doc.  Firstly – the BBC teams almost always make an effort to provide footage of never-before-captured events.  Almost every episode has at least one jaw-dropping moment, with the early half of the series heavily stocked with WTF NATURE moments.  Secondly, though I’ve pointed out the looseness of the narrative structure, it’s still a well-imposed idea that’s immediately understood and doesn’t just end up feeling like a front for pretty pictures, balancing the need in these things for both structure and simplicity.  Thirdly, and more importantly than I would’ve realized: the music.  Music is almost always true background on these things, and when it comes to the fore, it can be cheesily swooning or annoyingly comical.  Contributed by Murray Gold – who’s apparently been kicking around in TV and I’ll have to check out some of his other work – the score simply felt a cut above on ‘Life Story.’  Overall, it still hits the beats you would expect, but there was just an extra emotional component to it translated a bit of the wonder of Attenborough, of the camera work, instead of coming across as a stock James Horner score or something.

So, again, if you like these, you’ll like this one.  If you don’t care, you won’t care.  If you watch the yearly iteration of these (like me), ‘Life Story’ is a notably solid addition to the genre, put together a little more comprehensively than a good majority of what’s come before.

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