Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Blu-Ray Version Of Life

So here it is midnight and I'm still watching the just released to Blu-Ray edition of the BBC-Discovery series Life.
The 10-part series from BBC-TV's legendary Natural History Unit was made for Blu-Ray.
The images are sharper, the focus deeper, the panorama more exciting. Sure, I watched much of the original series run when it premiered on Discovery Canada and was properly enthralled.
But can a series get better on Blu-Ray? Life can.
The footage was shot over three years (or 3,000 filming days) at a cost of over $22 million. But there's one area where Discovery Canada's version was better.
Sorry, you folks at BBC, but I much preferred the plummy tones of venerable David Attenborough to those of the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey who was substituted on the U.S. version which is the one now out on Blu-Ray.
So when I was chatting up executive producer Michael Gunton the other day I rather innocently suggested there should be two narration tracks: Oprah for the Americans and Attenborough for us Canadians.
He said it wasn't possible because the American version is shorter (to allow for commercials) and besides the Winfrey narration contains more physical details.
Gunton did say that advances in video cameras made all sorts of shots possible --shots that he could never accomplish before. And he showed me one: flying fish sailing through the air and back into the water. Their bursts are so fast standard film cameras couldn't capture them but now we can see how their fins work and even their tails advance propulsion.
We also get to see three cheetahs working together to bring down a far larger ostrich. And what's being advertised as the largest gathering of polar bears catches the bears feasting on a beached whale.
Attenborough may be 84 but he's still out in the field and has recently been filming in Canada as well as Antartica. Criticized in recent years for not talking more about global warming and all that means, he's since taken up the cause although not in Life which is as pure a nature series as one could wish for.
And Gunton reports Britain's new Culture minister has singled out Life as one of threee BBC shows he recently enjoyed --as well he should.
Attenborough does appear in the behind the scenes footage. And there are some deleted scenes which presumable were too gory for North American sensibilities. One example: baby seals are gnawed to death by waiting leopard seals, a very bloody confrontation.
The release date is June 1 and it's a perfect high school graduation gift now that I think of it.

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