For a time nature documentaries were relegated to the occasional Walt Disney release or were most prevalent on PBS. With the arrival of IMAX, seeing a nature documentary in the theatre became an event in a way, seeing nature on a giant screen like never before. With films like Africa: The Serengeti, The Living Sea, Alaska: Spirit of the Wild and Under the Sea audiences were given a you-are-there experience like no other. With the advent of IMAX 3D the experience was even more immersive. However, IMAX screens were few and far between which required viewers to go out of there way to find the films but ultimately didn’t see many of them until they were released on home video. It wasn’t long until the Discovery Channel arrived on cable. Soon Sir David Attenborough’s exceptional nature documentaries started to garner attention. With the theatrically released nature documentary nearly extinct it wasn’t until the 2005 film The March of the Penguins showed there is an audience out there willing to go to the theater even with the outstanding nature documentary miniseries that air on Discovery every few years. Since then nature documentaries have been opening every year most of which were released by Disney Nature. Unfortunately for many of them despite being projected on a giant screen they simply don’t hold the weight, display the grandeur or evoke the awe that their cable brethren produce. The latest nature documentary One Life falls into that category.
The most significant problem is that the film is essentially a repackaged, truncated, greatest hits compilation of the far more engaging miniseries Sir Richard Attenborough’s Life. As I was watching a scene unfold I began to realize that I had seen this before. It then dawned on me that this was from Life. Many of the film’s segments came from that exceptional miniseries. Needless to say I felt cheated. I wasn’t here to see Life on the big screen I was here to see something new. The next problem is the overt anthropomorphism throughout the film, they were laying it on a bit thick. For the segments that I recall seeing in Life I don’t believe it was even prevalent in the original series. Next up is the overbearing score that is purely manipulative. Cutesy when it needs to be, tense when it warrants it, etc. Again, I don’t recall the sequences I saw before haven’t such an overproduced soundtrack. In fact I think the music was fairly minimal as the drama on screen spoke for itself. Another unforgivable drawback was the subtle addition of sound cues that clearly aren’t natural. Clanging metal for the sailfish, seriously. I even think I heard a race car zooming by when a rodent ran across the screen. Seriously! One of my favorite scenes from the series involved Rhino Beetles. They added some unnatural sounds to the fights in that scene that it came off pretty dumb. Finally, I must get to the narration and the narrator. The narration was very pedestrian and really emphasized the anthropomorphism. I think the narration even lost what the documentary is supposed to be about. I think it was supposed to be about birth and the struggle to survive but in the end it’s about we are one planet. Ummm…okay. Daniel Craig is the narrator. Fine actor, great Bond, lousy orator. His narration lacks any warmth, humor and just comes off as flat.
As nature documentaries go this isn’t bottom of the barrel. The imagery and the animals are fantastic to look at. I could just watch the snow monkeys in the steam pool for days or even the Komodo Dragons waiting for a caribou to die. The problem is if you’ve seen Life there really is no point in seeing this film except maybe with the sound on mute. If you’ve never seen Life then you might find it somewhat entertaining but why would you want to settle for this when you can see the real thing on Discovery…in HD. Speaking of HD, I was rather surprised that the theatrical presentation looked rather muted in comparison to the 1080p HD version. Perhaps it had to do with the projection not set properly but it seriously didn’t look good.