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Ben Lawrie  |  London  |  UK

reviews

Film reviews from newspapers & magazines

galapagos

3x60' BBC1 / BBC Worldwide, TX 2016

"Once in a lifetime. Voyage of discovery. Dive into the unknown. These are the clichés uttered in the opening seconds of Galapagos but, for once, they could hardly be deemed hyperbole.  Galapagos is smart stuff… genuinely astonishing… fascinating."

"The deep-water exploration was hypnotic. The whole of the first programme could have been devoted to this adventure alone. Remarkable three-part series."

'Liz Bonnin is the lucky presenter who gets to see spectacular and rare creatures, including the pink iguana, in this beautiful series.  Stunning. Fans missing Planet Earth should definitely tune in."

"It’s a voyage that takes in oceans, volcanoes and hidden caves, full of spectacular natural wonders.  The perfect fix for anyone left wanting more by Planet Earth II… packed with stunning views and finds… Galapagos is a must-watch."

"Not many of us will go on a proper scientific expedition to the Galapagos islands, but this is probably the next best thing… it’s glorious.  The footage, taken with blue light, of a coral reef is breath-taking, while the sight of giant tortoises lumbering through vegetation is both charming and magisterial.  We also join Bonnin as she descends into a 100-metre deep volcanic chamber – it’s absolutely spectacular.  There is one shot in this week’s programme that is worth the price of admission on its own: a large, magical school of hammerhead sharks seen from below.  Beautiful."  

"Watching this often felt like an episode of early Star Trek, with a shipful of space-age equipment on a mission to explore strange, new worlds. The highlight of last night’s episode (and possibly of Liz Bonnin’s life) was a breath-taking submarine journey into the deep-sea darkness, a place less mapped than the moon. The surface was no less jaw-dropping, though, especially the encounter with the marine iguanas, fierce salt-spraying aquatic foragers, whom Darwin christened “the imps of darkness”. 

"There were moments of beauty and moments of scientific insight, and often they were the same moments."

"Amazing adventure."

"This is a worthy addition to the cannon of Galapagos docs."

"Visually stunning."

the day the dinosaurs died

1x60' BBC2 / Nova, TX 2016

"When a serious science television programme has the pace of a Hollywood blockbuster it's likely to be good TV.  The Day the Dinosaurs Died is the BBC at its best."

“Intriguing.” 

extreme mountain challenge

2x60' BBC2 / BBC Worldwide, TX 2016

“Extreme Mountain Challenge will have you cowering behind the sofa if you hate heights, scorpions, or the tarantula-eating wasp that made Darwin doubt the existence of God.  Seriously, palm-sweating, nail-biting stuff; hypnotic if you can keep your eyes uncovered.”

“Unmissable.” 

"For once, a series that lives up to the hyperbole of its title.  The expedition, already foolhardy, is blighted by freak weather, rock falls and the dangerous wildlife that lurks inside and outside of the tepuis.”

“Must see TV.”

“It’s a white-knuckle ride… one of the Beeb’s most dramatic expeditions yet.”

“Exciting stuff.”

“Just occasionally, a programme comes along that is sufficiently hardcore to actually live up to its title. Or, in extraordinary circumstances, to exceed it.  This is one of the most gripping and extraordinary documentaries I have seen in some time.”

“Edge of your seat stuff and fascinating, too.”

“There must be times when TV crews yearn to be reassigned to the safety of Flog It.  Those on Steve Backshall’s new series are instead confronted with life-threatening rockfalls, ground-skimming biplanes and a creature so unpleasant it led to Darwin disbelieving in God.”

“Viewers with a fear of heights should steer well clear… it’s dizzying stuff.”

JUNGLE ATLANTIS

2x60' BBC2 / Smithsonian, TX 2014

"Part travelogue, part history lesson, this engaging documentary tells the story of the rise and demise of Angkor, the vast temple metropolis built by the Khmer people of Cambodia in the 12th Century, and of the archaeologists and scientists attempting to learn more about the circumstances around its sudden downfall."

“Fascinating.”

"This two-parter is an absolute gem."

"Fascinating… During its 12th-century peak, this city spanned a larger area than modern-day NYC and had a population of nearly three quarters of a million. London at that time was home to only 18,000. Our schools’ history curriculum may pretend that civilisation is a strictly Western invention, but at least television can fill in the blanks."

"Intriguing."

“Absorbing.”

"Fascinating."

newspapers - PICK OF THE DAY

The Sunday Times  |  The Sunday Telegraph  |  The Independent  |  The Daily Mail  |  The Daily Telegraph  |  The Times  |  The Guardian  The Mail on Sunday  |  Metro  |  Radio Times  |  The Observer  |  TV Times  |  I  |  TV & Satellite Week  |  Total TV Guide

the plane crash

1x60' & 1x90' Channel 4 / Discovery, TX 2012

The Plane Crash generated headlines worldwide.  This clip from Good Morning America...

 

“One of the most spectacular sights you will ever see on TV.”

“An investigative science documentary of jaw-dropping vision and ambition...

an amazing and unprecedented television experiment… an extraordinary documentary.”

“The crash is genuinely spectacular, and the lessons learned are valuable.  This is a documentary you are likely to remember.”  

“Eye-catching… a TV spectacle”

“It was all compelling viewing in an extremely old-fashioned televisual way: we were watching something thrilling that had genuinely never been shown before… arresting… nail-biting… impressive… extraordinary.”

“Plane Crash is giddily thrilling... meticulously co-ordinated experiment… makes for compelling viewing… it's extraordinary television… mesmerising and terrifying, strangely exciting too…”

“Spectacular… dramatic.”  

“Remarkable… disturbing but intriguing”

“We also hear moving accounts from real crash survivors…”

“You’ll never forget to do up your seatbelt again.  Riveting… compelling.”

“One of the most spectacular documentaries of the year.”

“Remarkable.”

“The sheer gall of it is admirable, and the technological achievement (the 727 essentially becomes the world’s biggest remote-controlled aircraft) remarkable. And that’s to say nothing of the footage of the crash itself, far more tense and impressive than any Hollywood CGI-fest.”

“The moment it hits the ground is both terrifying and visually stunning.”

“Interesting… cool slow-motion footage.”

“Edge-of-the-seat story… Even though it’s a test, the on-board cameras make it feel all too real.”

“Chilling and spectacular.”

“It makes for amazing viewing.”

“Spectacular television.  Completely absorbing and often exciting.  When it comes, the actual ‘accident’ is both terrible and stunning.”

“A jaw-dropping new documentary that follows a team of scientists and pilots as they deliberately crash-land a Boeing 727 passenger jet plane… spectacular… amazing.”

 

OUT OF CONTROL

1x60' BBC, TX 2012

"Ben Lawrie's entertaining film observes scientists anaesthetising ants and gluing weeny rucksacks to their backs, ladies knitting inside MRI scanners and a golfer with the yips, all in the interests of revealing the hidden secrets of the human brain."

“An incredible documentary in which scientists explore the secret world of the unconscious mind... proof that science can be discussed in an eye-catching, brain-pleasing manner."

"Mind-expanding."

“Astonishing.”

"Cool experiments."

Absorbing... surreal yet revealing."

SEEING STARS

1x60' BBC, TX 2011

“Thrilling.”

“A fascinating look into a nocturnal coffee-fuelled world where stars that twinkle are a scientific problem that needs solving.  It was fabulous TV that left me feeling much better informed.”

“Even viewers who struggle with science will be charmed.”

“This fascinating film follows the men and women who are pushing the limits of science and engineering in some of the most extreme environments on Earth.”

“This is one of those films which stirs a pure sense of wonder”

“A film about the ‘ongoing renaissance in telescope construction’ may sound like a tough sell, but the combination of stunning photography, mind-boggling science and quaintly prosaic terminology (the biggest telescope in the world is called the VLT – Very Large Telescope) proves irresistible.  In scenes guaranteed never to make you take the accumulation of knowledge lightly again, assorted boffins assemble telescopes while dealing with altitude sickness, film dying stars from the back of a moving jumbo and splash some $6.5 billion in the process.  The fact that they don’t really know what they’ll find out doubles the risk, but also the appeal.”

“Fascinating… this hour-long documentary did a superb job of de-jargoning what is a complex subject.”

“An understated documentary which is light on graphics and moving parts, but rich with genuine discovery and scientific intrigue.”

newspapers - PICK OF THE DAY

Mail on Sunday  |  The Observer  |  The Sunday Telegraph  |  The Independent  |  The Daily Telegraph  |  The Times  |  The Guardian 

Metro  |  Radio Times  |  The Sunday Times  |  The Evening Standard  |  The Daily Mail

surviving a car crash

1x60' BBC / Discovery, TX 2011

“Fascinating.”

newspapers - PICK OF THE DAY

The Sunday Times  |  The Sunday Telegraph  |  The Independent  |  The Daily Express  |  The Daily Telegraph 

The Times  |  The Guardian  |  Radio Times  |  Timeout

 

catastrophe

5x52' Channel 4 / Discovery, TX 2008

"Catastrophe is a triumph."    

"Creationism takes a back seat to science at its most spectacular in a superb five-part series about how massive natural disasters have influenced evolution on our planet – not always for the bad."

EARTH: THE POWER OF THE PLANET

5x60' Channel 4 / National Geographic / ZDF, TX 2007

After watching this, I guarantee you won’t take anything as read ever again, as this truly breathtaking series ends by explaining about the extraordinary cosmic flukes that have helped make Earth inhabitable… If there is other intelligent life out there – and Stewart leaves us feeling there might not be – I challenge them to make a TV series as easy to understand and yet as mind-blowing as this one has been.”

“‘It’s time to look at the bigger picture,’ announces Dr Iain Stewart. Which is a worry: in this eye-popping, mind-blowing series the pictures have been pretty big already – billions of years, the whole history of our planet.  How big does he want?”

“Enthralling”

“Riveting science series.  Dr Iain Stewart’s knowledge and passion make this subject compelling and his vision of the future arrestingly poignant”

newspapers - PICK OF THE DAY

The Mail on Sunday  |  The Sunday Telegraph  |  The Independent  |  The Daily Telegraph  |  The Independent on Sunday  

The Times  |  The Daily Mail  |  Radio Times  |  Timeout

 

20TH CENTURY BATTLEFIELDS

6x60' BBC / Discovery, TX 2007

"History television at its best."

"Fascinating and lively”

“Energetic... pleasingly accessible... filled with a squadron of corking computer generated effects.”