By : John Latchem | Posted: 11 Mar 2010
The makers of the mega-popular Planet Earth are back with a new documentary about the natural world, Life.
The 11-part saga airs on the Discovery Channel from March 21 to April 18 and will be released by BBC Video June 1 (order date April 27) as a four-disc set on DVD ($59.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($69.99).
“It’s the next chapter of Planet Earth,” said Burton Cromer, EVP of consumer products for BBC Worldwide Americas. “Planet Earth explored the environments and vistas that create and maintain life. This one is about individual stories of survival and thriving.”
Four years in the making on a production budget of $22 million, Life tells 130 individual stories, including 54 that have never before been filmed. The series was shot entirely in high-definition using new techniques that didn’t exist during the making of Planet Earth.
“The stuff I’ve seen is just amazing. It’s just eye-popping stuff,” Cromer said. “The cameras, the resolution gets that much better over three years.”
To capture the unique behaviors of creatures studied in Life, filmmakers employed several new HD technologies, such as the “yogi cam,” which allows cameras to track smoothly alongside migrating reindeer and elephants; intricate cable rigging that lets the camera fly through thousands of butterflies; and low-light HD cameras that facilitate underwater time-lapse photography.
Episodes are divided into categories of life, such as mammals, fish, birds, insects, etc. Segments include a humpback whale mating contest, time-lapse footage of starfish devouring a dead octopus, komodo dragons hunting animals 10 times their size, polar bears fighting over a whale carcass, monkeys teaching their young how to open palm nuts with rocks, and more.
BBC Video will make two versions of Life available to consumers, both on DVD and Blu-ray. The primary version being sent to retailers will be the Discovery Channel version narrated by Oprah Winfrey.
“Oprah was so instrumental in bringing her fanbase to Planet Earth and was just enthusiastic to sign up to narrate,” Cromer said. “Oprah is just at another level of magnitude, and I think she brings more of a mainstream appeal to the program.”
The other version, dubbed the “U.K. Director’s Cut,” will include longer versions of the episodes, different music and narration by David Attenborough. Cromer indicated this version will be offered through a limited distribution channel and primarily online.
“All our advertising is going to support Life as a concept,” Cromer said. “Nothing is going to stop retailers from carrying the Attenborough version. But we think most retailers will want the Discovery Channel version.”
Attenborough narrated the U.K. version of Planet Earth, which is the version released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. The Discovery Channel version of Planet Earth featured narration by Sigourney Weaver, and the DVD was available exclusively through the Discovery Channel Web site.
Cromer said any footage cut for time from the Discovery Channel versions of Life will still be included on disc as deleted scenes. He said the primary difference is the U.K. version may be a bit more intense in its depictions of the harsher realities of nature.
Other extras on Life include “Life on Location,” a collection of 10 production diaries; and a music-only mode that puts more emphasis on the visuals, making the documentary ideal as a background display for an HDTV.
Cromer said BBC Video also will release Life as a two-pack with Planet Earth.
Released in April 2007, Planet Earth is the all-time top-selling documentary on DVD, and is the No. 2 Blu-ray seller of all time, behind The Dark Knight, according to BBC Video. Cromer estimates that between the various formats and gift set configurations, more than 5 million copies of Planet Earth have been sold.