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The Trials of Life started as David Attenborough's most ambitious wildlife project, and ended as something really big. First came Life on Earth (1978), then The Living Planet (1984), but when The Trials of Life (1990) arrived the already epic individual series became "The Life Trilogy", collectively the most impressive documentary achievement in the history of television. Unfortunately the epic has shrunk here, as not only have the credits been removed, but each of the 12 original episodes having been cut from 49 minutes to 28 minutes (though the scene everyone remembers--a whale pursuing its prey right onto the beach--survives).

Rather than focus on evolution or geography, the emphasis is on animal behaviour, from courting and mating, to giving birth and raising the young, hunting, flight and fighting, finding shelter, and migration. This immediacy makes The Trials of Life the most accessible of "The Life Trilogy" for younger children, though the abridgement makes it play like a superior schools programme. This short-attention-span version of a television masterpiece simply makes one wish for a fully restored, extra packed special edition of the complete series. David Attenborough would go on to make The Private Life of Plants and The Life of Birds. --Gary S Dalkin

On the DVD:The Trials of Life has a good though slightly soft and grainy 4:3 picture that would benefit from remastering from the original elements. The stereo sound is a clear improvement over the originally broadcast mono, but a full 5.1 DTS remix would have brought out the best in the atmospheric natural location recording. The only extra is a 49-minute "making of" documentary, "Once More into the Termite House", originally shown as a companion to the series. Given a DVD all to itself, this programme offers a real insight into the challenges of making such a vast programme, while David Attenborough is as affable as ever. There are optional English and Greek subtitles on all three discs. --Gary S Dalkin

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