Late in The Discovery Channel's From Conception to Birth (2007), the pains of labor are described as "like trying to shove a softball down your throat." That pretty much likewise describes this thin, 49-minute piece of documentary infotainment.
Cut together like a music video, it plays almost like an extended advertisement for some other show. Purporting to offer an "inside view" of human development in the womb via the latest CGI technology, it is instead a dizzying barrage of Cliff Notes factoids likening growing fetuses to walnuts, squirrels and the like, intercut with the inherently dramatic personal stories of a half-dozen or so couples. One mother gives birth to twins, another suffers through a miscarriage, etc.
Documentaries have successfully merged science with CGI advances before but where, say, Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) and its follow-ups actually take the time to stop and marvel at these digital recreations, From Conception to Birth seems terrified its viewers will tune out unless it keeps moving on to something new every few seconds. The breathless pacing allows little time for anything like useful information to actually be digested, and the narration tends to stick to the simplest of analogies: "Her embryo is no bigger than a cursor, but [it's] packed with life!"
This Short Attention-Span Theatre approach is made even worse by the show's appalling lack of organization. The title is a misnomer: it doesn't follow human development from conception to birth; rather, it introduces its human subjects who are at widely varying stages in their pregnancies, then bounces between them like a pinball in a pinball machine. This might have worked had the show been three hours instead of 49 minutes, but the result here is utterly chaotic. One second there's dazzling CGI of a woman at eight months, blink and it's back to the mother at eight days. But wait! Here's another mom talking about her newborn twins and there's a woman wondering if she's pregnant while another is worried she might have another miscarriage while here's some more CGI and now the contractions have started and you've got to breathe! Breathe, damn you! Breathe!!!
Video & Audio
From Conception to Birth is 16:9 widescreen, enhanced, and looks up to current television standards. The Dolby Digital stereo is likewise fine. There are no subtitle or alternate audio options, and no Extra Features.
With its barrage of edgy hand-held shots, pulsating underscoring, and multi-screen effects, From Conception to Birth comes close to suggesting that pregnancy is something like a warm-and-fuzzy episode of 24. Despite its onslaught of sometimes fascinating visuals, it's basically not nearly as informative as it might have been, and the cutting especially is a big turn-off. Skip It.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.