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Life After People : The Series -The Complete Season One

A&E Video // Unrated // October 27, 2009
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted November 11, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Life After People: The Series - The Complete Season One:
However you use it - as an eco-wish-dream, stinging reminder of life's transitory nature, or crumbs for the couch potato - Life After People: The Series is ultimately disappointing. For a show with some potent philosophical questions, Life After People quickly becomes shallow and repetitive; like within the first episode. After incidentally raising those serious questions, the show gets into the nuts-and-bolts - geeking out to buildings collapsing. It's pointless infotainment that ignores its point.

Like some other History Channel shows about things that aren't real, Life uses a largely groundless possibility, that of everyone on Earth suddenly vanishing while everything else remains unharmed. It dazzles us with techie talk about corroding sheet metal, which leads inevitably to buildings falling down. Although used as a springboard for scientific inquiry, it's highly unlikely that this scenario will ever occur, leaving us with a quasi-legitimate science-fiction program. This is Roland Emmerich's 2012 for lefties with a guilty conscience.

But hey, even lefties need mindless entertainment, which this series fails to deliver. The idea is intriguing, and would make a pretty nifty feature-length movie, which in fact is the impetus for this series. If the movie's successful, why not stretch it out into a series? Here's why; because every episode is exactly the same, and the special effects stink. Hyperbole aside, each episode is remarkably similar. Two cities or areas get the decay treatment each episode. Cheesy yet over-used Xbox-level CGI shows what happens to various structures, clips of deserted cityscapes and lonely animals parade by, experts break down various types of break-downs, and where applicable visits to real-life abandoned areas illustrate actual neglect and decay.

Episodes unfold chronologically, starting at 'one day without people' and sometimes extending to 'a million years without people'. During this temporal parade, no surprise, many high-maintenance systems commence collapsing almost immediately. Buildings and monuments eventually collapse too. And those precious artifacts? - collapse (or decay, whatever). Really, it's easy to get the flow and gist instantly, only variables keep things remotely interesting. Vaguely different factors contribute to the collapse of the Space Needle and the Sears Tower, but they all turn to dust eventually, as does the United States Constitution, Egyptian mummies and the International Space Station.

Barring a particular need to find out what happens to wax effigies, it's down to a couple of things: how badly do you want to watch buildings collapse, and how much do you want to know about the precarious nature of human kind's works versus the endless onslaught of nature and time. Well, narrator James Lurie never really talks in depth or with feeling about our fate, (dust) nor does he speculate on what a relief it might be to the planet without us mucking it up. To be blunt, Life consists of the same 45-minute episode repeated ten times, with only rudimentary CGI to liven things up. The CGI's no treat, and most of us are too well familiar with the visual realities of skyscrapers collapsing. Skip this and read James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand instead.

Episodes tackle:
The Bodies Left Behind: Cryogenics, mummies, the Statue of Liberty, etc.
Outbreak: Rabies, Chicago, Big Ben, and more.
The Capital Threat: Washington Monument, US Capitol Building, and so on.
Heavy Metal: New York's monuments, St. Louis' Gateway Arch, and beer.
The Invaders: Exotic pets run wild in Miami, Phoenix, Arizona turns desert, and other hits.
Bound And Buried: Doomsday Vault, Mona Lisa, Liberty Bell - I mean, who really cares what happens, we're all gone, right?
Sin City Meltdown: You didn't really think Las Vegas would last, did you? Atlantic City does slightly better.
Armed & Defenseless: Military might isn't so mighty anymore. Dairy cows have a tough go, too.
The Road To Nowhere: Animals up, transportation down. Things explode, buildings in Detroit fall down.
Waters Of Death: New Orleans loses the battle with water for good, while fancy buildings in Dubai die.

Yes, there are variations from episode to episode, and there's usually something a little unique to ponder, but the message is mind-numbingly repetitive; the 'works of man' fall, while animals are left to their own devices. Coupled with recap-prone infotainment TV quirks - set something up, show it, recap it ad infinitum - Life After People remains a whole lot of the same thing. If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all.

The DVD

Video:
Non-anamorphic, letterboxed, 1.33:1 fullscreen ratio episodes certainly highlight the deficiencies in CGI animations used frequently throughout the series, creating a harsh, digitalized image. Compression issues aren't a huge problem - a little aliasing here and there, some mild posterizing - because the CGI material doesn't look great to begin with. Colors are well saturated but stylized, vibrant greens of kudzu taking over Atlanta battle harsh grays of stormy clouds and weak looking murky explosions.

Sound:
Dolby Digital Stereo Audio indeed features stereo separation, but not much else. Narration is appropriately balanced with soundtrack music and the sounds of toppling towers, and all that's said by various experts is intelligible, but there is little to test your audio set up.

Extras:
Closed Captioning and Chapter Selection Menus for each episode are it as far as extras. The set of three thinpak DVD cases in this three DVD set is packaged in a sturdy paper case.

Final Thoughts:
Life After People was a great idea for a movie special on the History Channel, but Life After People: The Series - The Complete Season One is not such a great idea. For indiscriminate folks who still like to see buildings crumble - we'll see how many viewers Emmerich's 2012 brings in - this series blandly fills that need. It's full of experts explaining exactly why those buildings eventually fall, and other stuff happens too; animals run rampant and stuff explodes. Ultimately, it's an incredibly repetitive series that becomes tedious quite quickly on DVD. It may fill a need once in a while, but as far as this set is concerned, structural entropy dictates you Skip It.

www.kurtdahlke.com

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