Attenborough in Paradise
The David Attenborough Specials

Presenter: David Attenborough

RRP: 19.99
Certificate: E
Available 22 August 2005

Join David Attenborough through seven different programmes as he fulfils a childhood dream when he visits the forests of New Guinea to witness the courtship displays of the birds of paradise; visits the lost gods of Easter Island; examines the marvel that is the amber time machine; reveals the Bowerbirds mating rituals; and other personal journeys...

Attenborough in Paradise is the first episode in this collection and sees Attenborough take us into the hides, up trees and through swamps to observe the splendid and wonderful courtship of the mysterious birds of paradise. He examines their fascinating behaviour and amazing variety.

Next up is Blank on the Map. This early programme was made when Attenborough was still controller of BBC 2 and takes him on a journey to an area of unexplored mountains in central New Guinea, which had never been entered before by Europeans. Accompanied by a Government patrol and over 100 porters, their aim was to try and contact an unknown people who were thought to live somewhere nearby.

The Lost Gods of Easter Island takes us on a journey as Attenborough does a little detective work. He has a wooden carving that he won at an auction - the only detail he knows for certain is that it originated from Easter Island. So, is it an ancient artefact, or a modern tourist souvenir? Attenborough's quest takes him to several different places to examine the similarity between other figures in museums and a laboratory where the wood properties can be tested to confirm it's age and whether it did indeed originate from Easter Island.

Episode four, Bowerbirds - the Art of Seduction, follows the master decorators, and elaborate builders known as Bowerbirds as they attempt to attract a female, sometimes stealing brightly coloured decoration such as feathers, flowers and fruits from neighbouring nests. They will even perform dances on a stage they construct themselves or gang up on an over-successful neighbour to achieve their only aim in life - reproduction.

Song of the Earth examines how music is central to being human. It is found in all cultures and throughout history. Part of our brain is specifically devoted to music. But what is it for? Attenborough sets out to prove his theory that the origins of music lie in territory, emotion and sex. While this is an extremely entertaining and informative documentary, for me the highlight was a scene of a bird that could mimic any sound - including a car alarm and a logger's chainsaw.

Episode six, Life on Air, is a recent (2002) documentary that reveals how the BBC has evolved over the last 50 years, since David Attenborough joined in 1952. Those years have seen the BBC become world renowned across a number of genres, including, of course, natural history. Presented by Michael Palin, who also interviews Attenborough and key figures in his career, the programme uses archive footage to remind us of some of his most unforgettable moments, and reveals the extraordinary history of his life on air.

Concluding this collection is The Amber Time Machine, in which Attenborough, a life long collector of amber, embarks on a journey of discovery, examining and identifying the contents of the unique material amber - which holds the secrets of the tropical rainforests of 25 million years ago. Detective work and specialised visual effects enable this film to unravel extraordinary detailed stories about the ancient tropical plants and animals entombed in this resin, bringing them back to life for the very first time. This is a fascinating programme and I loved the way that David linked his findings with his brother's, Richard Attenborough, role in the movie Jurassic Park.

I was slightly puzzles as to why these particular programmes had been chosen. Are these Attenborough's favourite journeys? Or did someone else compile these? Sadly we never discover - maybe a feature on one of the two discs could have shed some light on to this.

Another confusing element is the order these episodes are arranged in. They seem to have no natural order. And, most oddly of all the 'tribute to Attenborough' documentary is not at the end or the beginning of this collection, as you might expect, but planted as the penultimate episode of disc two. The running order on the discs I reviewed also differed from the list on the press release, so I'm not entirely sure whether my review disc was a very early rough cut and that the episodes were juggled around later. Although all the DVD menus seemed to be in place, so this is probably the finished running order.

Apart from those slight oddities, this is another winner of a collection of David Attenborough programmes - and certainly worth spending £20 on.

Darren Rea

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