Let's get this out of the way first: You should own a copy of Life, the incredible BBC/Discovery series focusing on all things living on our planet. The questions is, between the American version and the UK version, which DVD set you should buy?
Life, from the makers of the-most-awesome-thing-ever Planet Earth, first premiered in the UK in 2009, on BBC One. It hit American televisions this past March via Discovery. Though largely the same series on the surface, the two have minor differences that can greatly affect your enjoyment of it.
The biggest—and certainly most talked-about—difference is the narrator. The UK version features the soothing sounds of Sir David Attenborough, the renowned British naturalist whose voice is irreplaceable and recalls the days of sitting on your grandfather's lap and listening to him spin tales about hunting dinosaurs or whatever it is old people did back then. The American version features the chatter of Oprah Winfrey, the Queen of All Media. Attenborough brings his dry, playful wit to the series, whereas Oprah is more straight-forward in her narration; she adds a bit more "oomph" to her words, as though she's reading for children, and the results can overwhelm what's going on on-screen. Nine out of 10 people will prefer Attenborough's narration to Oprah's, and Discovery apparently understands this. They've added a feature to the US version that allows you to watch the series without narration; the UK version, understandably, doesn't come with this option.
As for content, you'll get the same 10 episodes on both sets. What is different, however, are the lengths of each segment. Because US television demands commercial breaks (down with corporate rule!), each episode will run somewhere in the neighborhood of 42 minutes. The UK version's episodes offer better bang for the buck, with run times around an hour for each. So far, it's UK version 2, US version 0.
But the big difference for a stickler like me is how the series has been edited; because the US version is trying to cram an hour's worth of footage into 42 minutes, its cuts and edits are more abrupt. This may not bother many people, but it bugs the hell out of me. The US version feels like you are watching a program with the commercials removed, whereas the UK version feels like you are watching a short film. The US version attempts to make up for this with deleted scenes, but those only run 18 minutes. UK 3, US 0.
Now, the American version does feature the extra episode "The Making of Life," a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes work that goes into an endeavor like Life. But that episode is largely a redone version of the "On Location" addenda that are included with the UK version (the UK "On Location" segments are also included in the US version, complete with Attenborough narration). However, the "Making of Life" segment nicely ties them together. UK 3, US 1.
The menus, chevrons, graphics, and packaging are only slightly in the US version's favor, but won't really make a difference in the long run. Unless you are a devoted Oprah fan or British accents are like nails on a chalkboard for you, there's no reason to choose the US version over the UK version, the latter of which is how the producers envisioned the series. Just don't let Oprah know you opted for Attenborough, or she'll sic her goons on you.
Aside from picture quality, there don't appear to be too many major differences between the DVD and Blu-ray sets. But if you have a Blu-ray player, the extra $10 is well worth it.
Whether you use Life as a fancy screensaver or as an educational tool to get your kids to cool it with the BB guns, it will make a remarkable addition to your DVD library.
Both versions of Life are available now on DVD ($59.99) and Blu-ray ($69.99), but if you search around the Web (try the internet's biggest retailer), you'll find both sets for $20 cheaper.