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A spectacular upgrade of Life in the Freezer with some flaws
on December 9, 2011
This review is based on the UK Blu-Ray release and, so far, based on what I've read, the US release will be identical (as with Human Planet). Unfortunately, once again, Discovery seems to be planning to air their own butchered version, this time replacing David Attenborough with Alec Baldwin. I'm sure I don't have to recommend to most of you to seek out Attenborough's version.
This is the latest flagship release of the BBC's Natural History Unit, the next in line in the epic 'Planet' series after Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life, and Human Planet. It was produced by Alastair Fothergill, executive producer of Planet Earth, and shares several similarities with that release in terms of structure and approach.
David Attenborough not only narrates this one in superb, warm and energetic form, but even makes a couple of appearances in the harsh Antarctic locations at the age of 85! The writing seems to be a collaborative effort however, and is somewhat chaotic.
This seven-part seven-hour series covers the natural and wild habitat of the Arctic and Antarctic circles, covering indigenous life, their survival tactics, hunts, and mating cycles, as well as the landscape and natural events, most of which involve ice in dozens of surprising forms, and the extensive effects of the seasonal cycle. The first episode is a kind of overview, four more episodes cover these habitats during the four seasons, the sixth episode covers various human explorations, studies and residents of these regions, and the final controversial episode covers melting ice and global climate change.
I recently re-watched Attenborough's Life in the Freezer (also produced by Fothergill) in preparation for this series, figuring that this would cover much of the same ground and would probably be a remake/upgrade (as with Planet Earth). Unfortunately, I guessed correctly, but this series adds the following:
- Arctic footage (Life in the Freezer only covered Antarctica). But even this footage is not always fresh, having seen polar bears, arctic wolves and other Arctic animals in many previous releases such as Planet Earth and Life.
- Breathtaking landscape footage in high definition. You've never seen so much ice and snow take on so many forms and do so many awe-inspiring things.
- Upgraded footage in high definition. A lot of the Antarctica footage covers the same ground as Life in the Freezer, except this time they use the latest technology and go the extra mile (or hundred miles) to create the perfect shot.
That said, I felt that Life in the Freezer, in its mere 3 hours running time, educated me better and more systematically. Although Attenborough gives us a wealth of facts and knowledge on this release, the overall writing and structure is lacking. This is mainly due to the chaotic and whimsical structure similar to Planet Earth that splices together any spectacular footage it could find regardless of its educational value. Categorizing the footage under which season it happened in is simply not enough guys.
Let's illustrate this with a specific example: In Life in the Freezer, Attenborough discussed and showed us lichens to complete the picture of life on Antarctica. But, evidently on this release, lichens were deemed too boring and they were replaced with yet another bloody and action-packed hunt instead.
- The quality of the picture and sound is top-notch as expected.
- The first overview episode doesn't repeat the same footage used in later episodes as they did with Life/Planet Earth, but cuts out footage from several scenes in upcoming episodes instead to provide a random selection of upcoming attractions. So it is not as repetitively annoying, but it is still the wrong thing to do in my opinion.
- As on previous releases, each episode ends with 10-minute behind the scenes footage. Except this time, some of the scenes that are covered aren't on the episode we just watched, which is a bit weird.
In summary, at least half of this is a remake, and the structure is very weak, but the footage is breathtaking, there are many moments of dramedy as with the Life series, there is some new and surprising behaviour, and the not-so-new is upgraded. So I'll give it four stars. Personally, I think the best reason for getting this is the breathtaking footage of the ice and landscape.