By getting up close and personal with Life in the Undergrowth, this extraordinary BBC series sets a new standard of excellence in wildlife cinematography. Hosted by veteran nature expert David Attenborough and utilizing the latest advances in macrophotography, the five-part series is dedicated to bugs of all shapes and sizes, from microscopic gnats to cave-dwelling millipedes so large they can capture bats in mid-flight and feast for hours thereafter! The patience involved in filming such previously unseen marvels must have been grueling (as confirmed by producer Mike Salisbury in a splendid bonus interview), but the results are nothing less than astonishing, with a parade of sequences so impressive that even insect-haters will pause in amazement. With an emphasis on reproduction and mating behaviors, each program focuses on a different, generalized group of creatures, many of them never filmed before, so that lay-persons and entomologists will be equally enlightened by discoveries made in the process of filming.
As always, Attenborough serves as an expert witness, cordial, fearless, and quintessentially British as he explains what we're seeing, from the nocturnal fluorescence of scorpions (glowing at night in ultraviolet light, they perform a mating dance playfully described as "a nuptial pas de deux") to the mysterious, 17-year life cycle of the cicada. Throughout, we see everything, both frightening and beautiful, from an intimate, bug's-eye view, in detail so vividly colorful that you'll never view the insect world in quite the same way again. (Likewise for the diverse variety of critters on view in episode 3: "The Silk Spinners," which according to Salisbury is capable of curing arachnophobes from their irrational fear of spiders.) Just when you think Life in the Undergrowth couldn't get any more fascinating, it does: episode 4, "Intimate Relations," shows how many insects symbiotically depend on other species for food, shelter, or completion of their reproductive cycles, and episode 5, "Supersocieties," focuses on the social complexities of insect colonists like ants and termites. Enough to give you the creeps for days, you say? Think again, for after seeing Life in the Undergrowth (a perfect companion piece to the Nova episode "The Unknown World"), you may find yourself in the garden, on your knees, eager for a better look at the countless millions of tiny creatures that surround us every day. --Jeff Shannon