Life on Earth

Life on Earth

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Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough is a television natural history
Natural history
Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals. Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study...

 series made by the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 in association with Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

 and Reiner Moritz Productions. It was transmitted in the UK from 16 January 1979.

During the course of the series Attenborough
David Attenborough
Sir David Frederick Attenborough OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA is a British broadcaster and naturalist. His career as the face and voice of natural history programmes has endured for more than 50 years...

, following the format established by Kenneth Clark
Kenneth Clark
Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA was a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians of his generation...

's Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski
Jacob Bronowski
Jacob Bronowski was a Polish-Jewish British mathematician, biologist, historian of science, theatre author, poet and inventor...

's The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man is a thirteen-part documentary television series produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films first transmitted in 1973, written and presented by Jacob Bronowski...

(both series which he designed and produced as director of BBC2), travels the globe in order to trace the story of the evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

 of life on the planet
Life on Earth
Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough is a television natural history series made by the BBC in association with Warner Bros. and Reiner Moritz Productions...

. Like the earlier series, it was divided into 13 programmes (each of around 55 minutes' duration) so that it would exactly fill a scheduler's quarter-year. The executive producer was Christopher Parsons
Christopher Parsons
Christopher Eugene Parsons OBE was an award-winning English wildlife film-maker and the executive producer of David Attenborough's Life on Earth, widely regarded as one of the finest and most influential of nature documentaries...

 and the music was composed by Edward Williams.

Highly acclaimed, it is the first in Attenborough's 'Life' series of programmes and was followed by The Living Planet
The Living Planet
The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth is a BBC nature documentary series written and presented by David Attenborough, first transmitted in the UK from 19 January 1984....

(1984).

Filming techniques


In order to obtain footage of rare and elusive animals, special filming techniques had to be devised. One cameraman spent hundreds of hours waiting for the fleeting moment when a rare frog
Frog
Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura , formerly referred to as Salientia . Most frogs are characterized by a short body, webbed digits , protruding eyes and the absence of a tail...

, which incubates its young in its mouth, finally spat them out. Another built a replica of a mole rat burrow in a horizontally-mounted wheel, so that as the mole rat ran along the tunnel, the wheel could be spun to keep the animal adjacent to the camera. To illustrate the motion of bat
Bat
Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera "hand" and pteron "wing") whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels, gliding possums, and colugos, glide rather than fly,...

s' wings in flight, a slow motion
Slow motion
Slow motion is an effect in film-making whereby time appears to be slowed down. It was invented by the Austrian priest August Musger....

 sequence was filmed in a wind tunnel
Wind tunnel
A wind tunnel is a research tool used in aerodynamic research to study the effects of air moving past solid objects.-Theory of operation:Wind tunnels were first proposed as a means of studying vehicles in free flight...

. The series was also the first to include footage of a live (although dying) coelacanth
Coelacanth
Coelacanths are members of an order of fish that includes the oldest living lineage of Sarcopterygii known to date....

.

The cameramen took advantage of improved film stock to produce some of the sharpest and most colourful wildlife footage that had been seen to date.

The programmes also pioneered a style of presentation whereby David Attenborough would begin describing a certain species' behaviour in one location, before cutting to another to complete his illustration. Continuity was maintained, despite such sequences being filmed several months and thousands of miles apart.

Gorilla encounter


The best remembered sequence occurs in the twelfth episode, when Attenborough encounters a group of mountain gorilla
Mountain Gorilla
The Mountain Gorilla is one of the two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic...

s in Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey was an American zoologist who undertook an extensive study of gorilla groups over a period of 18 years. She studied them daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda, initially encouraged to work there by famous anthropologist Louis Leakey...

's sanctuary in Rwanda
Rwanda
Rwanda or , officially the Republic of Rwanda , is a country in central and eastern Africa with a population of approximately 11.4 million . Rwanda is located a few degrees south of the Equator, and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo...

. The primates had become used to humans through years of being studied by researchers. Attenborough originally intended merely to get close enough to narrate a piece about the apes' use of the opposable thumb, but as he advanced on all fours toward the area where they were feeding, he suddenly found himself face to face with an adult female. Discarding his scripted speech, he turned to camera and delivered a whispered ad lib:

"There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know. Their sight, their hearing, their sense of smell are so similar to ours that they see the world in much the same way as we do. We live in the same sort of social groups with largely permanent family relationships. They walk around on the ground as we do, though they are immensely more powerful than we are. So if there were ever a possibility of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature's world, it must be with the gorilla. The male is an enormously powerful creature but he only uses his strength when he is protecting his family and it is very rare that there is violence within the group. So it seems really very unfair that man should have chosen the gorilla to symbolise everything that is aggressive and violent, when that is the one thing that the gorilla is not — and that we are."


When Attenborough returned to the site the next day, the female and two young gorillas began to groom and play with him. In his memoirs, Attenborough describes this as "one of the most exciting encounters of my life". He subsequently discovered, to his chagrin, that only a few seconds had been recorded: the cameraman was running low on film and wanted to save it for the planned description of the opposable thumb.

In 1999 viewers of Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 voting for the 100 Greatest TV Moments placed the gorilla sequence at number 12 — ranking it ahead of Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

's coronation
Coronation
A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the placement of a crown upon their head and the presentation of other items of regalia...

 and the wedding of Charles
Charles, Prince of Wales
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales is the heir apparent and eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Since 1958 his major title has been His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. In Scotland he is additionally known as The Duke of Rothesay...

 and Diana
Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, whom she married on 29 July 1981, and an international charity and fundraising figure, as well as a preeminent celebrity of the late 20th century...

.

Critical and commercial reception


The series was a major international success: it was sold to 100 territories and watched by an estimated audience of 500 million people worldwide. However, Life on Earth did not generate the same revenue for the BBC as later Attenborough series because the Corporation signed away the American and European rights to their co-production partners, Warner Bros. and Reiner Moritz.

It was nominated for four BAFTA
British Academy of Film and Television Arts
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is a charity in the United Kingdom that hosts annual awards shows for excellence in film, television, television craft, video games and forms of animation.-Introduction:...

 TV awards and won the Broadcasting Press Guild
Broadcasting Press Guild
The Broadcasting Press Guild is a British association of journalists who specialise in writing and broadcasting about television, radio and the media generally....

 Award for Best Documentary Series. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes
100 Greatest British Television Programmes
The BFI TV 100 is a list compiled in 2000 by the British Film Institute , chosen by a poll of industry professionals, to determine what were the greatest British television programmes of any genre ever to have been screened....

 drawn up by the British Film Institute
British Film Institute
The British Film Institute is a charitable organisation established by Royal Charter to:-Cinemas:The BFI runs the BFI Southbank and IMAX theatre, both located on the south bank of the River Thames in London...

 in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Life on Earth was placed 32nd.

Episodes


>
# Title Original air date

DVD and book


The series is available in the UK for Regions 2 and 4 as a four-disc DVD set (BBCDVD1233, released 1 September 2003) and as part of The Life Collection
The Life Collection
The Life Collection is a 24-disc DVD box set of eight titles from David Attenborough's 'Life' series of BBC natural history programmes. It was released in the UK on 5 December 2005 and has also been made available on Region 4 DVD in Australia and New Zealand. The Region 4 DVD contains four fewer...

.

The hardback book, Life on Earth by David Attenborough, was a worldwide bestseller
Bestseller
A bestseller is a book that is identified as extremely popular by its inclusion on lists of currently top selling titles that are based on publishing industry and book trade figures and published by newspapers, magazines, or bookstore chains. Some lists are broken down into classifications and...

 and its cover image of a Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

nian red-eyed tree frog
Agalychnis callidryas
The Red-eyed Treefrog is an arboreal hylid native to Neotropical rainforests in Central America.- Description :...

, taken by Attenborough himself, became an instantly recognisable emblem of the series. It is currently out of print.

Music


Edward Williams' avant-garde score matched the innovative production techniques of the television series. Williams used a combination of traditional orchestral instruments (harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

, flute
Flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

, clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

, strings
String section
The string section is the largest body of the standard orchestra and consists of bowed string instruments of the violin family.It normally comprises five sections: the first violins, the second violins, the violas, the cellos, and the double basses...

 and percussion) and electronic sounds. The pieces were crafted scene-by-scene to synchronise with and complement the imagery on screen. The sounds were processed through an early British synthesiser, the EMS VCS 3
EMS VCS 3
The VCS 3 is a portable analog synthesiser with a flexible semi-modular voice architecture, by Electronic Music Studios Limited in 1969....

, to create an evocative sound which Attenborough compared to chamber music
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

.
The score was never intended to be released commercially, but Williams had 100 copies pressed as gifts for the musicians involved. One of these LP
LP album
The LP, or long-playing microgroove record, is a format for phonograph records, an analog sound storage medium. Introduced by Columbia Records in 1948, it was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry...

s found its way into the hands of Jonny Trunk, owner of independent label Trunk Records
Trunk Records
Trunk Records is a British independent record label, which specialises mainly in lost film scores, unreleased TV music, library music, sexploitation and kitsch releases...

, who negotiated the licence from the BBC. The soundtrack was finally released on 2 November 2009.

External links