This enthralling BBC series examines "the lengths living beings go to to stay alive," in the words of Sir David Attenborough. Aided by breathtaking high-definition cinematography, the makers of Planet Earth explore the more colourful strategies the world's creatures employ to procreate, evade predators, and obtain nourishment. Cameras travel though the air, under the water, and right into the faces of insects, like the alien visage of the stalk-eyed fly. Except for "Challenges of Life" and "Hunters and Hunted," each episode covers a different category, such as mammals and birds. Among the more memorable images: three cheetahs move with the relentless rhythm of mobsters, a school of flying fish glides through the air with the grace of ballerinas, and a Jesus Christ lizard skips across the water, like, well, you know. The strangest sights range from a pebble toad bouncing away from a spider like a rubber ball and brown-tufted capuchin monkeys pounding palm nuts with stone tools like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Witty writing and skilful editing, which distils thousands of hours of footage, make the learning go down easy (at one point, Sir David references Jurassic Park, which featured his brother, Richard). If the sound effects seem overamped, George Fenton's score is always on the money, adding humour and suspense at crucial moments (martial drums for the mud skippers, woozy brass for the Darwin's beetle). Nonetheless, delicate sensibilities may find some sequences disturbing, as when Komodo dragons feed on a water buffalo or when a leopard seal dines on a penguin (according to Attenborough, the Komodo siege caused the camera operators "emotional turmoil"). More often, the filmmakers capture the moment of impact before moving on. --Kathleen C. Fennessy, Amazon.com