Corrupting Life

by Jennifer Frazer on January 18, 2011

I knew it would be bad when I heard Oprah Winfrey was replacing David Attenborough as the narrator of the American version of “Life”. But I didn’t know it would be this bad.


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Actually, it’s even worse than this in the version I saw in “Challenges of Life” episode: they cut the sound effects (stopwatch and slamming noises), altered and dumbed down the narration further, and cut the scenes of the flies suffering at the end. Apparently, in addition to subbing Oprah for David, they rewrote the script in many places and replaced it with a hack job a freshman biology student appears to have penned. (Sample dialogue: “The thing about mating is, that it has some fairly predictable consequences.” ) Worse, they replaced the beautiful soundtrack with the cheesiest Musak they could find, changed the sound effects, and cut, changed the tone, or destroyed the narrative of some of the most poignant scenes (possibly for time since Discovery Channel, unlike BBC, has commercials). The American title sequence was so bad (and sooooo different from the moving yet understated British opening to Planet Earth with the sun dawning over the planet in an inky black sky) that I thought it was yet another preview or commercial. Shame on you, Discovery Channel. SHAME.

They even changed their facts in some places. In the American version, Oprah claims some grebes are Western grebes, and that they are monogamous but switch partners every season. In the British version, David says the very same grebes are Clark’s grebes and that they mate for life. So which is right? I’ll put my money on David. How many more inconsistencies are there? I only noticed these because I happened to have seen a preview of the British version of this scene.

Completing the Failure Trifecta, Netflix ONLY offers Americans the corporate pablum Oprah version. That’s right, America. You aren’t even considered bright enough to be given the option of watching the grown-up British version. Shame on you, Netflix. SHAME.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m exaggerating for effect? A (non-random) sampling of customer comments from Netflix:

Oprah Winfrey narrating Life in place of Sir David Attenborough is like having Donald Trump narrate for Jacques Cousteau. The one with the original audio will be out later, and I’ll be waiting for that one. (From a one-star reviewer)

This would be a 5+ Rating if it wasn’t dubbed over by Oprah Winfrey without any way to change it back to the original Attenborough. Epic Fail to not include the original language, and epic fail on NF for choosing this version over the original. (Yet another one-star review)

I too would give it 5 stars only if Oprah hadn’t ruined it. I’ve since purchased the Sir David Attenborough’s narrated version so that I could enjoy the rest of the series and would agree with many others, Oprah shouldn’t be narrating anything regarding the natural world – corporate explotation in my opinion. (You guessed it — one-star review)

Please bring the David Attenbourgh version to NF. I’m sure the Oprah version was cheaper (no one is buying it), but there was a reason for that. I had real trouble with the fact that the narrator cannot pronounce the words correctly.

What the heck??? I thought this was supposed to be narrated by Sir David Attenborough? Instead Oprah Winfrey sounds like she is narrating for a group of children… this is insulting. I had to turn it off, and I am going to order the Original BBC version.

You cannot substitute David Attenborough. His love and knowledge for nature is unmatched. You can’t have someone like Oprah narrate this. It’s an attrocity. I couldn’t finish watching the last bit of it because I wanted to punch Oprah.

It was so unwatchable and so unrecognizable as the original, high-quality product I’ve come to know and expect from the Beeb that I’m sending my DVD back and refusing to watch further until the powers that be at Netflix release the Attenborough version from its corporate prison. Come on, Netflix. Do the right thing.

{ 4 trackbacks }

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

kati January 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm

i remember thinking the same thing when i heard her voice on it :(

Jo January 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Totally agree. I won’t even bother to get that from Netflix with her narration. I didn’t know they edited (as in dumbed-down) the content as well. Preposterous! My three year old can keep up with Attenborough (I mean how hard is it to figure out what “hoovering” and “dustbin lid” mean?). The assumption is that Americans want this sort of verbal packaging with their nature programming is terribly frustrating. It is like replacing a Five Guys burger with McDonalds, and for the same price.

We watched a Discovery Channel special on the Humbolt Squid called “Squid Invasion” and noticed many similarities. It was so obviously and tediously edited for commercials that the viewer must listen to the same sentences repeated over and over again. The language was a bit sensational in parts and lacked the eloquence I have become accustomed to with Attenborough.

Jennifer Frazer January 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Update: I found that the Attenborough version is available for purchase on Amazon and has been since June. Amazon customer rating for Attenborough version: 5 Stars. Oprah version: 2 stars. Two.

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