Life After People
A&E Video // Unrated // $29.95 // June 2, 2009
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 19, 2009
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  The Movie:
What would the world be like if every human on Earth disappeared or died suddenly?  Would our cities and monuments still stand?  For how long?  What would happen to our steel and cement skyscrapers and what would New York City look like if no one lived in it for a hundred years?  Those are some of the questions posed by the History Channel documentary Life after People.  It is an interesting thought experiment, though by definition a futile one, that is worthy of a movie.  Unfortunately this isn't it.  With too little science and way too much purple prose and hyperbole in the narration the show fails to spark the imagination.
Starting with the assumption that every human on Earth was gone, the show looks at the planet as time passes.  It doesn't go into how or why this happened, it just starts from the presumption that it did.  (Which is fine.  Just how such an event would occur would be another program entirely.)  After a day most of the power plants in the world would stop generating electricity, and domestic animals would start to turn into feral beasts.  A year later the deterioration would really start to take place and 20 years later many landmarks would be unrecognizable.  The show goes of to look at 100 years, 500 years, and even 10,000 years into the future to see what long term impact humans would have had on the planet.
The story is told though time lapse photography and CGI images of famous landmark tumbling to the ground in spectacular fashion.  These images are interspersed with scientists and experts giving their opinions as to what the Earth would really be like.
One of the best aspects of the show is that they look back in the past to see how abandoned cities of the past have fared.  They examined the temples of Angkor Cambodia to illustrate how quickly the forest can recapture land.  Even more interesting was a small Russian city that was evacuated after the Chernobyl accident over 20 years ago.  Sitting in the stands you couldn't tell where the soccer field was and seeing how much damage the building had sustained from the elements and entropy was eye opening.
Unfortunately the show is marred by its style.  Each time frame and aspect that they examine is over in a few brief minutes, just in time for a commercial break. Nothing is looked at in any depth, and there are no opposing sides or other alternatives offered.  The show has a good deal of eye candy, but not a lot of substance.
The CGI that is used frequently in the film varies in quality greatly.  Some of it looked pretty good, but other parts were pretty poor.  The illustration of a book disintegrating over time looked like it was done on a PC in someone's bedroom, for example.  The animation of the Brooklyn Bridge collapsing looks good, and it's very cool, but they showed it something like four times!  (You can almost here to producer saying "We paid for it, you're going to use it damn it!") 
The worst aspect of the program however is the script for the narrator and the soundtrack.  Everything the narrator said was an OH! MY! GOD! moment.  Every point was given dramatically and with much hyperbole.: "In Las Vegas, [dramatic pause] the last glimmers of man-made light relinquish the night to its primeval blackness."  I actually laughed at that line.  Give me a break.
The music is even worse with every point needing to me reinforced with dramatic or ominous music, just in case the viewer was too dense to understand the meaning of the overstated narration. 
All of these elements came together to make the show feel like it was aimed at the lowest common denominator.  Rather than educate or make it's point, it was more concerned with grabbing people who are channel surfing. 
The Blu-ray Disc:
I actually wasn't too impressed with the 1.78:1 1080p/VC-1 image.  The colors were very nice and the level of detail was fine, but there were problems when the camera panned over cityscapes.  The image was jerky and not smooth.  It looked like the problems you get with a PAL to NTSC conversion and I was surprised to see it.  There was also some minor banding in a few scenes but nothing major.    
The quality of the stereo soundtrack was fine, even if I didn't enjoy the content.  There was some use made of the soundstage and the narration and comments were all clean and clear.  I just wish they had toned down the intrusive dialog a bit.
There are 8 "additional scenes" which really played promo spots for the show.  They were brief and some of them showed some early stages of the CGI animation.  Overall they were nice but nothing special.
Final Thoughts:
This should have been a better program, and I'm really surprised that it spawned a TV series.  Filled with over-the-top music and horrid narration the movie seems like it's more interested in being trendy than deep.  I even agreed with the documentaries main theme, that everything we humans do will one day disappear.  It's just too bad that the point couldn't have been made with a little more intelligence and less hyperbole.  Make this one a rental.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

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