The technical mastery of filming wildlife is on full display in the BBC’s latest nature docu-dazzler, One Life, but the narration provided by Daniel Craig, better known as the actor who gave the James Bond series a pansexual charge, is forcibly heteronormative and family-centric in its anthropomorphizing of animals’ behavior. The irony of having Craig narrate aside, filmmakers Michael Gunton and Martha Holmes’s sermon about the value of understanding what we have in common with the other five million species on the planet, however truthful, is a feel-good platitude that could have been cut and pasted from a number of other recent nature TV shows and documentaries, like Deep Blue and Planet Earth.
That’s because One Life isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It attempts to capitalize on the best that’s come before it, the result of rummaging through thousands of hours of footage from BBC’s Natural History Unit. (Fans of David Attenborough’s excellent Life series will recognize a lot since there’s some overlap between the two, like footage of a Central American basilisk, which, like an athletic Jesus, can run on the surface of water, or the dolphins in Florida that figured out a way to get fish to jump into their mouths.) Depending on the viewer, One Life‘s familiarity could either cheapen its impact or work like a greatest-hits package, but to be able to fully experience your eye balls jumping out of your head, you need to see this amazing footage in the theater, whether it’s for the first or third time.
When Craig says that animals “dream of finding the perfect partner, the love of our life,” the unnecessary sentimentalism tends to drown out the images. The doc is peppered throughout with similar awkwardly human projections, exemplified by the conspicuous segment on the mommy octopus, who, because her children “mean so much to her,” is willing to “die for them”—yet the fact is that all female octopuses die after successfully giving birth. It’s enough to make you yearn for the irreverence of YouTube sensation “Randall,” whose (re)narration of National Geographic videos is splashed with sassy humor and descriptions of animal behavior that leans toward the indifference of natural instincts. Still, for as much as One Life‘s narration can feel tacked-on, it’s really secondary to the film’s expert camerawork, which has created cut-above visuals (the film’s audio, unfortunately, consists of bogus, cliché sound effects) that display a variety of life that are in ways, yes, convincingly relatable to our own, and should occupy a larger part of the collective conscious than they currently do.