A four-hour documentary that dresses up old physiology docs with stiffly performed recreations and abundant CGI, stripping bodies in motion down to their bones and muscles and cartilage.
Computer-generated imagery is a wonderful thing in the right hands, but some still treat it like a shiny new toy. So it is with Discovery Channel’s “Human Body: Pushing the Limits,” a four-hour documentary (split over two successive Sundays) that dresses up old physiology docs with stiffly performed recreations and abundant CGI, stripping bodies in motion down to their bones and muscles and cartilage. There are interesting tidbits to be sure (70 muscles used lifting a cup of coffee? Wow), but not enough to make this look under the skin come alive.
The opening hour, “Strength,” focuses largely on tremendous feats the body can achieve in moments of crisis, as well as athletes who push endurance well beyond the norm. Unfortunately, each of those adrenaline-rush moments comes with a real-life story, mixing stilted interviews with survivors (a guy who fell and moved the 1,000-pound weight that pinned him, for example) with equally dreary reenactments.
The CGI intervenes frequently, but can only do so much to enliven the festivities, and depicting a football player stripped down to the skeleton — but still wearing his helmet — frankly looks flat-out ridiculous. On the plus side, a segment on a marathon swimmer reports that fat cells are “a vital way of storing energy,” which will make many viewers (including this one) feel better as they watch the show with their big butts planted on the couch.
Subsequent hours are titled “Sight,” “Sensation” and “Power to the People,” the last of those referring to brain activity and how it can accelerate when facing life-threatening conditions.
Discovery has done reasonably well with such fare, and “Human Body” shouldn’t be an exception. Still, when the narration notes that the body’s untapped capacity means that in instances of need “a superhero lives inside every one of us,” by that point, my comicbook alter-ego would have been called Indifferent Man.