The Friday Afternoon Movie: Life On Earth

Well, not all of it. 1979’s Life on Earth, made by the BBC and narrated by the incomparable Sir David Attenborough was a defining moment in nature documentaries and propelling Attenborough to international success; allowing him to build a massive oeuvre, whose most recent offering was Planet Earth a series almost more well known as a way to show off one’s high-definition television than as a documentary. His upcoming series, simply entitled Life, is set to debut on Discovery in March. Like Planet Earth, however, which excised Attenborough’s voice-over, replacing him with Sigourney Weaver, Discovery has this time chosen to showcase the narrative talents of the insufferable Oprah Winfrey. As Americans we are, apparently, incapable of bearing the horror of a British accent.

Back to Life on Earth. If anything, today’s FAM is merely an exercise in entertaining my own nostalgia. When my brother and I were children we watched this series to the point that the two VHS cassettes that comprised the official Time Warner offering were nearly useless, the stunning images smeared as they were with static and lines as the magnetic strips inside struggled to retain some semblance of visual fidelity. It is by now, I’m sure, a shadow of its former self. I can rest comfortably, however, knowing it gave us more hours of entertainment than should have been possible. In this case, it is lucky for me that one cannot wear out the internet.

5 Responses to “The Friday Afternoon Movie: Life On Earth”

  1. secretia Says:

    They REMOVED Attenborough’s voice-overs from Planet Earth and Life? OMG, that’s hideous!

    I have grown up with David. HE was the person that inspired me to pursue science, to keep pursuing it to PhD level and THEN to pursue a teaching career so I could impart my knowledge and hopefully inspire the next generation.

    Apart from all that he’s what I lovingly call my TV Dad (the dad I never had and would choose in a heartbeat from anyone on TV)!

    Hey, if any of you need me to source UK versions for you – I will!


  2. Mark Says:

    What Sec said – he’s always been revered as an absolute institution over this side of the pond, and in fact it’s notable how the BBC is really struggling to come up with a viable replacement for the future…they’ve road-tested a few younger voices recently, and none of them sound remotely as engaging or enamoured with the subject matter.

    He’s a personal hero of mine, too, and I will be terribly sad when he is no longer the de facto King Of Beasts. The Blue Planet is the first box set I always give in my ‘desert island discs’-type lists – totally essential.

    Long live Mr Attenborough, and if anybody needs any original voiceover versions posting out West, give me or Sec a shout!

  3. Tequila Says:

    I remember seeing this for science class way back in grade school. His voice is part of the fun really…it makes everything seem wonderfully important and interesting. It’s a great series and aged pretty well really…at least in terms of the photography. I dunno how much of the commentary may be out of date at this point. That’s the tough part with documentaries. They can be fantastic on an artistic level but as soon as the information they have is out of date…to the archive never to be seen again they go. I think only National Geographic is somewhat immune to that since their photography is as important as the commentary.

    I like Sigourney Weaver as a narrator though, she adds in a great sense of urgency with her tone. Like everything you see may be wiped out before you know it.

    Attenborough’s voice should at least be an option given the fact DVD’s and blu-rays can handle multiple audio commentaries. Though I would like to hear the marketing reasons why his voice was pulled, my guess it was less to do with the accent than the performance and tone many seem to want for docs in the US. Plus some simply find British accents boring in docs like these…too academic and lacking in that Hollywood polish. In the age of networks dedicated to stuff that was previously only a category on a major network it makes sense…

    Doc’s like these need to be as entertaining as they are scientific. Not a bad thing really but it can get almost too much…like those many Disney doc’s and old skool animal films that would follow say a raccoon around and add in comedic voice commentary.

  4. Kale Kip Says:

    It is quite a nice surprise to see Attenborough has a new series in the making. I was under the impression that scientifically correct wildlife reporting was over for the Discovery channel. That nature had to be framed as a danger that needs to be contained and feared, rather than a beautiful self regulating system of which we are a part..

    For the past years I’ve seen wildlife reporters cover themselves in dung, eat their way through the jungle, sneak up to ‘the most fearsom snake’ and strangle wildlife with their bare hands in front of the camera. It’s fucking depressing to see compared to the work of Attenborough.

  5. Ross Rosenberg Says:

    secretia – You can buy the BBC/Attenborough version in the States, it’s just that, as shown on the Discovery Channel, he was removed. The only place you can buy the Sigourney Weaver version is directly from Discovery.

    Tequila – To be honest, it wasn’t that Weaver was bad, it’s just that she’s not Attenborough.