The Life of Mammals (2002–2003)

TV Series  |  Documentary
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David Attenborough's comprehensive study of how a remarkable group of animals evolved - a group that includes ourselves.

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 Himself - Presenter (10 episodes, 2002-2003)
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David Attenborough's comprehensive study of how a remarkable group of animals evolved - a group that includes ourselves.

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wildlife | nature | mammal | See All (3) »

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20 November 2002 (UK)  »

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Az emlősök élete  »

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Himself - Host: Three and a half million years separate the individual who left these footprints in the sands of Africa from the one who left them on the moon. A mere blink in the eye of evolution. Using his burgeoning intelligence, this most successful of mammals has exploited the environment to produce food for an ever-increasing population. In spite of disasters when civilisations have over-reached themselves, that process has continued, indeed accelerated, even today. Now mankind is looking for food, not ...
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The definitive documentary on earth's most successful species
7 July 2003 | by (Brussels, Belgium) – See all my reviews

AS on Feb.5,'03 I sat through the last episode of The Life of Mammals on BBC1, switching off the TV, I was convinced that this had to be the most impressive documentary series on nature and life, more particularly on mammals, for the moment the most successful species on the planet. It is next to unbelievable that, after the myriads of documentaries on practically every animal, Attenborough still manages to come up with a documentary that never ceases to amaze. And this is not only because many images were first-timers. I guess it is because it focuses on animals that are closest to us, and are therefore often regarded as less 'exotic', and because this series proves us dead wrong in that respect, that this is such an amazing piece of film. But there's more:

Despite the fact that the images range from great to downright unbelievable, this is perhaps not the single feature that makes this series unique. It is the way the story is told. There's of course the never-topped David Attenborough. But, because the story loosely unfolds around the evolutionary stages in the life of mammals (beginning with the platypus), AND at the same time manages to pull it off to show you the whole of the variety of mammals around the world without losing track of the scope of each episode, you get a real glimpse of what biodiversity means. Furthermore, the series really makes the case of evolutionary theory in a crystal clear way. The in and of itself very simple principle of evolution often gets misinterpreted, e.g. when one starts to think of evolution as having a 'goal'. Since the main issue here is the power to adapt of mammals, the focus is, more than ever, on the importance of the environment as the steering force towards either many specialized species or less generalists, continuously flowing from one mode to the other.

What's more, the series really makes it clear how evolution gradually has shifted from selection on the basis of innate predispositions, to selection on the basis of the ability to learn during the lifetime, which makes a species much more able to adapt itself to environmental pressures and, in the end, enables them to overcome them. And then, at the end of the series, which focuses on the great apes and, ultimately, us humans, the whole story draws together superbly. I wondered how they would pull it of: would they preach about impending doom due to humanity's estrangement of its own nature, or would they just sing the hosanna of this marvelous little zoo we live in? Instead, Attenborough avoids these pitfalls. On the one hand he makes it clear that our behaviour and the way we treat our planet is nothing but the very natural consequence of evolutionary pressures that, for the moment, have put us on top of the pyramid, and this in a relatively short span of time. On the other hand, he does suggest that, if it were only BECAUSE we top the pyramid, we do have to take care that this environment which is responsible for who and what we are doesn't crumble under the pressure of its own success-story. Maybe it's about time that we think about constraining our own numbers?

In short, this series is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in the very nature of life in all its diversity or anyone needing arguments to convince people of the why of caring for nature. I'll buy it as soon as it 's out. And I knew that from the third episode. A classic.


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