“Life” picks up beautifully where “Planet Earth” left off — delivering a sumptuous, high-definition romp through astounding nature footage that quite simply defines the best Discovery Channel can be (and, alas, operates on a plateau its programmers seldom reach). Everyone will have their favorite moments — the darting lizard tongue, the stalk-eyed fly, cheetahs chasing down an ostrich, a Komodo dragon feast — but the most remarkable sequences might be the ones that illustrate the lengths to which the filmmakers went to bring back this footage. They’re hunting big game, all right, and they’ve bagged another veritable treasure trove of it.
The only real drawback to this 11-part series (including a final hour detailing how it was made), and it’s a minor quibble, is that the episodic themes are a trifle arbitrary. As such, “Life” plays less like any sort of narrative — as we’ve come to expect from some nature documentaries — than an assortment of bite-sized snacks, delicious and globe-trotting as they are.
The food metaphor is appropriate, since much of “Life’s” best stuff boils down to a very basic theme: The circle of life, for lack of a better term, and adaptive behaviors various critters have developed in the effort to function as predators or, conversely, avoid becoming prey. And parents should be mindful that this science-based mentality is refreshingly unsentimental about who ultimately lives and dies, which includes such things as watching a water buffalo slowly succumb to the poison in a Komodo dragon bite.
Discovery will premiere the episodes in two-hour blocks, starting with the overview “Challenges of Life,” before moving on to “Birds,” “Insects,” “Mammals,” “Reptiles & Amphibians,” etc.
For those reared on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” well, we ain’t in Kansas anymore. The imagery is spectacular, and designed to capitalize on the improved visual template created by the high-definition age as well as the burgeoning global TV market.
In an act of conspicuous synergy, Discovery has also tapped Oprah Winfrey — who will launch her own branded network in conjunction with the company next year — to serve as “Life’s” narrator.
Take it as praise of the highest possible order that “Life’s” jaw-dropping pictures and panoramic scale are enough to overshadow even Oprah’s presence.