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Life in Cold Blood

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // August 5, 2008
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Michael Zupan | posted July 23, 2008 | E-mail the Author
David Attenborough is as important to documentary presentation and narration, as George Carlin was to comedy. When Discovery Channel airs new documentaries, I skip them until I can obtain them on DVD. I don't want to hear an American celebrity read a script about nature's complexities. I want to listen to someone who is extremely self-knowledgeable in what science they're presenting to me, and I want to be able to tell they're genuinely happy with their work. Attenborough has done this since his Life series began in 1979 almost thirty years ago. At long last, his coverage on every biological cycle you can imagine has come to a close with Life in Cold Blood.

With mammals, birds, bugs, plants and so much more already covered, it's only natural the final phase of the series focuses on everything cold-blooded. As with the rest of the Life series, Attenborough not only narrates, he's always on the scene with whatever creature he's talking about. You can't help but feel a sense of awe, or perhaps an intensified fascination because of this. Narrators can only be so involved when they're just obligated to read a script at a studio. The fact that Attenborough actually visits so much of the world to present his take on nature, is an amazing draw for the audience. I certainly know I wished I was able to visit some of the places he's been. It's usually counter-balanced though, as he's also usually around things that would make my skin crawl.

This presentation is spread over five episodes that are around fifty minutes in length a piece. Every episode focuses on a very specific aspect of cold-blooded life on planet earth, while presenting a broad array of information. The context is laid out smooth and evenly, so you'll never feel like you're being overwhelmed.

The Cold Blooded Truth - The first episode gives us an overview of how reptiles and amphibians can survive the environments they inhabit so well. Just some of the facts presented include how they regulate body temperature, strange eating and grooming habits, why nocturnal activity is usually preferred, and even parenting techniques. In typical fashion for the Life series, this first episode gives us a large overview of what's to come on the following episodes.

Land Invaders - From here until the end of the series, Attenborough focuses each episode on a certain type of creature. This episode is solely about amphibians. The range of information is extraordinary, with coverage that begins from the ancestry of amphibians in Australia, to modern day salamanders and frogs.

Dragons of the Dry - Lizards are shifty and very territorial land critters. They're masters of disguise as they're able to blend into their environment effectively. When they're defending their territory however, they're quite the opposite. You'll learn of the bright warning displays lizards can produce, as well as their defense tactics amongst intruders.

Sophisticated Serpents - It's no surprise by the title that you're going to be seeing numerous snakes for close to an hour. On top of explaining the early days where snakes used to have limbs and burrow mainly underground, Attenborough wears a mask with a protective visor to show us how a modern snake (read: Cobra) sprays its venom. I bet you'd never see Sigourney Weaver try that for a documentary!

Armoured Giants - The final offering in the series shows us the most protected of natures cold-blooded species, crocodiles and turtles. Besides explaining to us how these animals of the wild obtained their protective layering over the course of evolution, most of this episode focuses on their reproductive processes. It's particularly interesting to learn this about turtles, as their cycle for reproduction is rather unique and not always consistent. Many turtles come on shore to lay their eggs, but the pig-nosed turtle is able to hatch in water.

This episode is the conclusion for Life in Cold Blood, as well as the Life series in full.


For the most part, picture quality on this release is pretty good. The series is presented in an anamorphic 1.77:1 aspect ratio, and the only complaints I have are pretty minor. There seems to be an effect of interlacing that will make some jaggies show up. It's definitely consistent, but not ever bad enough to make me feel frustrated while trying to enjoy the beauty of nature. There are some artifacts that show up as background noise, although a good part of that is most likely due to the way some of the shots were filmed. Black levels are very nice, which help greatly in bringing out the vivid colors of the reptiles and amphibians Life in Cold Blood offers up.

It's hard to say if this is the final product or not, as this was an advanced screener copy. However, I don't expect it to change much, if at all, as I did find this to look pretty close to what I would expect.


This series has been provided with a Dolby 2.0 track which sounds good, but certainly not great. When you're in the wild, a 5.1 track would really help pull you into Attenborough's experience. The stereo track given does give a lot of sway between the left and right channels so we can still differentiate where the sounds in the wild are coming from. If you're going to appease home theater owners with some breathtaking imagery in widescreen that's lush with naturally beautiful colors, why not treat them with surround sound? Subtitles are also available in English.


There are no special features to be found on either disc. Perhaps in the future we'll see the entire Life series on DVD, and with it, some special features. It would be interesting to hear David's take on the entire process of presenting his Life series over the last thirty years. Even just some reflection would be nice.

However, the end of each episode tacks on an additional eight to ten minutes of footage for a feature called Under the Skin. This feature does provide insight to the labors of filming this series around the world, however I wouldn't exactly say these qualify as special features on this two-disc set.


Life in Cold Blood is a grand departure for David Attenborough. He'll still do narrative work, but this series marks the final time he'll film in the wild to present material. The Life series has been his baby for nearly three decades, and his ability to entertain while explaining relatively dry information is a gift the world of televised natural science and history, should never have to lose.

Full of great up-close and not to mention rare imagery of nature in motion, Life in Cold Blood is a series I'd definitely give a recommended rating to. The presentation of each episode is deserving of a 'highly recommended' rating, however the lack of extras at the end of such an extraordinary run for David is a let-down. The lack of a 5.1 surround track is disappointing as well.

That aside, if you like this sort of thing, there's no question that you should check it out. If you've never heard Attenborough present before, give this a spin in your DVD player. You'll wonder how you've missed out on his work for so many years, I guarantee it.

-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!

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