Oprah Winfrey narrates Discovery's eye-boggling 11-part nature series

By Ken Tucker
May 27, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Hilfert-Ruppell/Discovery Channel/BBC

In the eye-boggling 11-part nature series Life, we are told by narrator Oprah Winfrey that a fly has to trip two tiny hairs in the maw of a Venus flytrap “within 20 seconds” before the trap snaps shut. To actually see it — bug hits one hair, two, then snap! — well, that’s stunning.

Divided into groups (“Reptiles and Amphibians,” “Mammals”) and themes (“Challenges of Life”), and created by the same team that did Planet Earth, Life is equal parts excitement and education?along with a little bloodlust, as guilty or guilt-free as your philosophy allows. One of the “challenges of life” is, um, death: Watching three “brother” cheetahs stalk and kill an ostrich is at once thrilling (the cameras glide along at the same cheetah-speed as the chase) and graphic (all three cheetahs leap and bite at the ostrich, pulling the bird into high grass that artfully disguises the feast that we know will follow).

Life is certainly manipulative: The music builds suspense as cheetahs hunt or swells lyrically as hummingbirds flutter; Oprah narrates in a way that’s soothing or strained, to suit the mood of the scene. At least as far back as the baby-boomer touchstone Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, the nature-TV genre has been constructed in this manner, but never so gorgeously. We are left to gawp and admire. A-