Life On Earth

As I said at the end of my The Ascent of Man review, the next documentary series I wanted to watch was this one. Well, I blazed through it, enjoying every minute of the thirteen episodes.

As with The Ascent of Man, it is the narrator, Sir Dave, who makes the series what it is, no one can tell the facts like him (except for Jacob Bronowski of course). And Sir Dave does it all from scuba diving, spelunking, walking into a shallow pond getting his shoes and trousers wet, sitting incredibly close behind a rattlesnake, and all manner of other tasks to explain to us the story of nature.

The most enjoyable scene was to see him in a mountain forest in Rwanda, lying down next to a large female gorilla with it’s child gorilla practically lying on top of him, and he had a huge grin on his face. From Wikipedia:

The best remembered sequence occurs in the twelfth episode, when Attenborough encounters a group of mountain gorillas in Dian Fossey’s sanctuary in Rwanda. 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.

And another example of Sir Dave’s bravery was a shot of him in a large plaza, it looked to be St Mark’s Square in Venice. The camera was set up quite some distance away high-up in a building. It started off with a medium close-up as he talked about modern man with a huge crowd of tourists casually wandering around him, doing what homo sapiens usually do on their day off and giving him quizzical looks. Then the camera pulled back quite a way so that we could see he was quite alone with no film crew around him, so seemingly talking to himself like a nutjob, not something I could do. To Sir Dave we are all animals too, worthy of observation in our natural habitat.

One of the most fascinating things I learned is that the whales evolved from a land-based mammal similar to a shrew, but over time it decided the sea was a good place to be, so lost it’s rear legs, gained a tail, got a whole lot bigger, and started munching on krill, amongst other changes. Makes you wonder what we will look like in several million years, although I doubt we will last that long. Actually, I hope we don’t last that long, the other animals that have lived on this planet, such as the dinosaurs, have behaved responsibly, and the animals that currently share the planet with us are getting a bad deal.

The filming techniques in this were obviously very tricky, and very well done. The cameramen also must have spent a lot of time getting the shot they wanted. From Wikipedia again:

One cameraman spent hundreds of hours waiting for the fleeting moment when a rare frog, which incubates its young in its mouth, finally spat them out.

If there is one criticism though it would be one aspect of the sound. Overall it was good, but at times it was clearly a Foley adding in the sounds post production. The sound of a monkey munching on a plant for example sounded a lot like a person munching on a celery stick in a studio. Of course this was probably the only choice they had, getting the sound of these things happening in a happening forest with all of the other sounds around was probably a tricky thing with 1979 sound-recording technology, so I can forgive it for that. Mostly though the sound was done on location.

After watching this I have a whole lot more respect for animals and natural scientific research, but most of all for Sir Dave who is a top television producer and narrator, as well as an excellent spokesperson for animal and plant-kind. He is 92 now, but is still working in television and writing books. Tonight I ordered a book of his from Amazon called “Life of Birds” which I am looking forward to reading.

I of course will add him to the MBMS Page of Fame, with highest honours.

The Ascent of Man

A few weeks ago I wrote that I had started watching this 1973 BBC documentary, developed by David Attenborough, and presented by Jacob Bronowski, a very smart fellow.

Just a few moments ago I finished the last of the thirteen episodes, and I must say that it is one of the best scientific series I have ever seen, mostly due in part to Mr Bronowski who not only presented it but wrote it. He was a mathematician by trade, but he was also one of those chaps who just seemed to know everything when it came to science.

And in typical BBC fashion it was extremely well made with great photography, and filmed in places all over the world. The last episode was partly filmed in Mr Bronowski’s house in California, which was very interesting as you could tell that he is passionate about what he was talking about with the books, sculptures, and paintings in his house which were all directly related to what he had been talking about in the series (they could have been placed there of course, but I doubt it).

Something we notice early on is that Mr Bronowski does not read from cue cards, he talks directly to the camera with his very distinct British accent (he was born in Poland, but went to England when he was 13, and had to learn English). Some of the scenes contained continuous shots which went on for minutes before a cut was made to another camera, and he did all this in such a natural way, as if he was just making it all up from the top of his head. Respectamundo.

One of the most remarked on scenes in the series is this one…

I had read online that he found the visit to Auschwitz to be very difficult and that he wanted to spend as little time there as possible. That scene though was the most powerful scene in the whole series. The episode began with Mr Bronowski introducing us to an old fellow who was being used to help demonstrate the various kinds of light such as infra red, x-ray, and visible light. He appeared a few times in the episode, but after the video clip you watched above, we were shown a headshot of a much younger version of this man, probably taken by the Germans at Auschwitz in World War II…he was a concentration camp survivor. Quite a stunning end to any television programme I have ever seen.

Despite it’s age this series is well worth a watch for anyone who loves science, but even if you don’t it is worth watching just for Mr Bronowski because it reminds us that there are people out there who can explain to us in simple terms why the world is the way it is and that we must not let ignorance and orange people undo everything science has achieved so far. He was also a very thoughtful and articulate chap who Michael Parkinson considered to be one of his most favourite guests.

Next, I am going to make my way through Life on Earth, another excellent BBC series.

And I was so impressed with Mr Bronowski that I have added him to the MBMS Page of Fame, a most worthy addition if I ever saw one. I suspect that Sir David will be joining him soon, but that is a forgone conclusion, is it not?

The Ascent of Television

My film watching habit has taken a bit of a hit recently due to my increased viewing of YouTubes and television series. I am also buying less music than usual, so I am not writing as much in this blog as I would like to, and I do like to write don’t you know? So, I have decided to write about the television series I complete, and a brief post about any new series that I start.

I will start with series one of Stranger Things which I completed a few weeks ago on Netflix (I have since ended my Netflix membership). There was a lot of talk about how brillo this series was so I was looking forward to watching it. And while it was an excellent series overall it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The story was quite standard stuff, and the outcome was what you would have expected, and it left some loose ends. The acting though was superb, all of the kids were exceptional talents, and it was great to see Winona Ryder again.

Another series I completed some time ago was series one of 3rd Rock from the Sun, an old fave that I watched back in the day but wanted to see again. Very funny stuff, not so much for the jokes, but for the very funny physical humour from the cast, especially John Lithgow who can make you laugh without saying anything, Jane Curtin too. I am currently making my way through the second series.

And finally, I have just started on The Ascent of Man, a 1973 BBC documentary series about how mankind evolved to become what we are today. It was hosted by a very intelligent chap by the name of Jacob Bronowski who died not long after the series was completed. He was actually a mathematician/scientist who was also very good at presenting as it turns out. I watched a Michael Parkinson interview with him and it showed him to be quite an incredible fellow. Anyway, the first programme in the series looked at the beginnings of man in central Africa. In the first episode we got to see 1973 3D computer graphics, which were primitive but more advanced than I would have imagined…

Mr. Bronowski explaining the evolution of the human skull at his desktop.

I guess for most people this is rather dry stuff, but I was captivated not only by Mr Bronowski but also by the story he told. I shall report back after I have finished the last episode.

Stranger Things – 8/10
3rd Rock from the Sun – 7.5/10
The Ascent of Man (so far) – 8/10

TV Opening Themes – Magnum, p.i.

It has been a while since I posted a good TV theme, so here is an eighties classic.

And here is the first theme… terrible!

From Wikipedia: The original theme music for the opening credits of the pilot episode was a mid-tempo jazzy piece by Ian Freebairn-Smith. This music was also used for the next nine regular episodes.

Beginning in Episode 12, it was replaced by a more uptempo theme typical of 1980s action series by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter with guitar by Larry Carlton. This theme had been used during the show and over the closing credits from Episode 8. A longer version of this second theme (“Theme from Magnum P.I.”, clocking in at 3:25) credited to Post was released as a 7″ single by Elektra Records in 1982 and featured on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that same year, peaking at No. 25 on 8 May 1982. This version also appeared on Post’s 1982 album Television Theme Songs.

Ash vs Evil Dead, Season 1

I don’t watch much TV these days, at least not on a real TV thing, but this series was an absolute must watch because it is Evil Dead.

The Evil Dead films are my most fave horror films of all time, and there are no other films that can come close for funny gore entertainment. And they don’t have Bruce Campbell do they? Therefore, this series was pure TV gold.

No need to write anything more, the above sentences cover it all.

TV series watched this year: this and Better Call Saul which I didn’t review, but it too is pure gold. I may have also watched House of Cards this year, or was it last? Brillo series too.