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Review: Wonders of Life (2013)

Directed by: Stephen Cooter, Gideon Bradshaw, Paul Olding, Michael Lachmann | 290 minutes | documentary | Presenter: Brian Cox

In ‘Wonders of Life’, British professor Brian Cox examines how life has conquered the Earth over billions of years and shows which fundamental laws of nature were and are the basis for the most diverse, unique and complex force that the universe has. ever produced: life. Although we often take for granted the present wealth of life forms on earth and, as so-called stewards of the earth, even handle it quite carelessly, ‘Wonders of Life’ shows in a clever way what it takes to live complex life. create and maintain. Only a multitude of chemical, physical, climatic and biological variables and processes are capable of creating the conditions for the myriad complex life forms that have populated the planet for millions of years.

Given the vast amount of scientific information that has gone into the series, you might think that “Wonders of Life” takes on the character of an opaque and dry mash of facts that is only of interest to those very well versed in the exact sciences. But that is not the case. On the contrary, in reality the series is a fascinating visual journey through the of our Earth and the shows how the current range of plant and animal species evolved from the Big Bang and the first single-celled life forms that colonized the Earth. The so-called extremophiles (simple life forms that live off gases and can survive in very hostile environments) in a Mexican cave, for example, provide a window into a primordial period in Earth’s history when the atmosphere was still largely devoid of oxygen. The volcanic chimneys (black smokers) that still exist in the deep sea today also show us where and how the first life forms on earth originated.

Because our guide Brian Cox expertly scatters with practical examples to explain on paper the sometimes quite complex seeming physical and chemical processes that underlie life on earth, ‘Wonders of Life’ is also for people with a healthy dose of scientific interest. those who are less familiar with science subjects are quite easy to follow. The use of beautiful wildlife images also helps, as it is of course more effective to fall back on beautiful images of a white shark instead of an obscure graph if you want to explain why animals in the water can usually get bigger and heavier (the influence of the gravity) than on land.

The same goes for the stunning images of a red kangaroo jumping at high speed through the wild and empty Australian Outback. This excerpt explains why only a select group of animals can move at great speed by giant leaps. When animals reach a certain size or mass, the bones must also grow in order to bear the body weight. The result: the bones get a higher density and more mass, become stiffer and heavier and thus set limits to the mobility of an organism. The bigger a creature gets, the greater the restrictions imposed on it by gravity.

The reflections on genetics and DNA are also extremely interesting. The DNA code of any organism is actually determined by four bases (indicated as the letters A, T, C and G). The order in which they are arranged determine how a plant or animal is built at the cellular level and form the unique blueprint of his or her design that is passed down from generation to generation. For example, the complete DNA code of a hippopotamus has approximately three billion letters. Natural selection also ensures that, as a rule, the best designs survive and favorable mutations (which ensure higher survival rates) become more dominant per generation.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this information is that all living things actually have the same biochemical composition and are therefore related to one another to a greater or lesser extent. For example, humans share nearly 99 percent of their genes with the chimpanzee, but also share a lot of genetic information with “lower” creatures that look nothing like us outwardly, such as insects, snails, fish or frogs. In this way, evolution through natural selection has laid the foundation for the manifold tree of life that is so characteristic of the earth.

The island of Madagascar, an enormously rich evolutionary testing ground with countless animals and plants that you will not find anywhere else on earth, is used in the documentary to illustrate this theory. The episode about the origin of the senses is also extremely interesting sant and shows how complex organs such as the eye and ear were created over millions of years and got their current shape. What helps, of course, is that presenter Brian Cox is not a stuffy chamber scientist, but a fairly media-genic scientist who masters the tricky trick of turning complex science into compelling television.

“Wonders of Life” is therefore a textbook example of a documentary that makes science fun, interesting and accessible for a wide audience on the basis of fascinating practical examples and beautiful images. A wonderful journey through the of life that is well worth seeing.

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