Life on Earth (1979– )
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The Swarming Hordes 

Examines the symbiosis between plants and insects together with how some insects have become super-organisms.
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Featured animals: locust, ichneumon wasp, mantis, caterpillars, common crow butterfly, orchard butterfly, bird wing butterfly, atlas moth, termites, sweat bee, honey bee, green tree ants, parasol ants, army ants Featured plants: magnolia, hazel, oak, meadow cranes bill, daisy, stapelia, amorphophallus, wild arum (cuckoo pint), salvia, flying duck orchid, yucca, acacia. Written by Ian S Johnson

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insect | acacia tree | ant | bee | termite | See All (13) »

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Documentary

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6 February 1979 (UK)  »

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The biology of insects and plants
11 January 2018 | by See all my reviews

David Attenborough is nothing short of a national treasure. He may apparently dislike the term, but it is hard to not say that about such a great presenter who has contributed significantly to some of the best programmes (of the documentary genre and overall) the BBC has ever aired/produced.

It is really hard picking favourites, let alone a definite favourite, among what Attenborough has done because he has done so many gems, it is the equivalent of trying to choose your favourite ice cream flavour or your favourite operatic role (for examples) and finding you can't pick. When it comes to talking about Attenborough's work, one cannot mention his all-time best best work without putting his first masterpiece 'Life on Earth' up there. It was a ground-breaking milestone for documentaries, television and anywhere, and to this day it is still an awe-inspiring work that is unlike anything one hadn't, and has, seen before. On the most part the BBC today can only dream of having something this amazing or influential, and under forty years on it's one of their greatest achievements.

Like the previous three episodes, one forgets that they are watching an episode of a documentary series and instead feels like they're watching a masterpiece of ground-breaking art with incredible diversity and variety. A lot is covered but it doesn't feel over-stuffed or jumpy and maintains non-stop engagement throughout. Not many people can succeed in making insects and plants interesting and make one appreciate them more, Attenborough does that and not just in 'Life on Earth'.

Visually, "The Swarming Hordes", and the whole of 'Life on Earth' for that matter, must have left viewers in shock and awe at the beauty and uniqueness of the images and they have held up incredibly today. Perhaps not quite as polished or as refined as some of Attenborough's recent efforts, but as amazing his recent work looks they don't quite have 'Life on Earth's' originality, awe or haven't-seen-anything-like-it feel that sets it apart.

"The Swarming Hordes" is gorgeously filmed, done in a completely fluid and natural, sometimes intimate (a great way of connecting even more with the plants and insects), way and never looking static. There are some beautiful shots and editing that is never rough and always cohesive. The scenery is richly magical and appreciatively diverse.

In terms of the music score, it is one of the best and most dynamic scores of any of Attenborough's documentaries, almost cinematic in places. The main theme is unforgettable and gives the immediate impression of "as soon as the theme plays one knows they're in for a treat."

Again, like so many Attenborough nature/wildlife documentaries, "The Swarming Hordes" fascinates, teaches, moves, entertains and transfixes. In terms of the facts there was a very good mix of the known ones and the unknown, some facts being familiar to us while going into detail about complicated subjects and making it easy to understand and be riveted. Evolution of life on Earth has never been more fascinating or engrossing since.

Narration by Attenborough helps significantly. He clearly knows his stuff, "The Swarming Hordes" is also one of the series' finest examples of him himself being in awe of the subject, and knows what to say and how to say it. He delivers it with his usual richness, soft-spoken enthusiasm and sincerity, never talking down to the viewer and keeping them riveted and wanting to know more.

Found myself really caring for what we're told. Like much of Attenborough/BBC's other work, "The Swarming Hordes" doesn't feel like an episodic stringing of scenes, but instead like the best nature documentaries each feels like its own story and journey, with real, complex emotions and conflicts.

Overall, wonderful once again. 10/10 Bethany Cox


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