First Life with David Attenborough

Common Sense Media says

Smart journey through prehistoric life is great for teens.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Although it doesn’t delve into the topic of conservation, the show’s beautiful scenery from far corners of the world does inspire hope that the planet’s diverse regions will continue to exist. The documentary is rooted in the evolutionary theory, and Attenborough presents as fact what he believes are concrete conclusions about the lineage from single-celled bacteria to modern mammalian -- and human -- life.

Positive role models

Attenborough is a model of studious curiosity. Although he’s an expert himself, he happily assumes the role of student when he’s around other scientists who share their knowledge with him.


A few computer-generated scenes of prehistoric creatures killing and digesting prey.


A segment of the show discusses the evolution of sexual reproduction, but the content is limited to simple organisms like coral, which mix genetic material by simultaneously releasing eggs and sperm into the water to mix and form new life forms.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this fascinating documentary takes viewers on a whirlwind tour of billions of years’ worth of evolution, introducing them to creatures that emerged during turning points in the anthropological history of the planet and drawing connections between them and modern life. In other words, the host presents as fact what some might believe to be contestable scientific claims of the origins of human life. Controversy aside, the show is a stunning collection of scientific data, fossil evidence, and recent theories made possible by state-of-the-art CGI, which is used throughout the documentary. It’s a worthwhile tour for families, but it’s best appreciated by teens who can process the weighty scientific topics.

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What's the story?

In FIRST LIFE WITH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, renowned natural scientist Sir David Attenborough takes viewers on a stunning journey across the globe as he explores the origins of modern life. Traversing the continents to visit some of the world’s most revealing fossil beds, Attenborough meets with local anthropology and biology experts to create a picture of life as it evolved from single-celled bacteria to complex predatory land-dwellers -- and eventually to the incredible diversity we know today.

Is it any good?


Attenborough’s journey is one of truly epic proportions, both on a geographical and on a historical scale. His extensive travels around the world to gather data and witness evidence for himself remind viewers of the grand scope of evolution -- that each of us descended from microscopic organisms and are a mere part of a process that’s billions of years old. The concepts are mind-boggling, but Attenborough masterfully condenses a lifetime of knowledge into this fascinating, surprisingly comprehensible documentary.

Genius host aside, the show’s best feature is its use of state-of-the-art CGI, which breathes life into the very fossils Attenborough and the other experts have unearthed. Thanks to these lifelike scenes of prehistoric existence, viewers get a real sense of the atmosphere at pivotal points in the planet’s history. All of this makes for superb family viewing, but the subject matter is meant for viewers who can grasp the concepts themselves -- namely teens -- since younger kids won’t have the patience for the lengthy scientific lectures.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about evolution. Do you believe the scientific claims about the origins of human life? What compelling evidence exists to support it? Does any evidence that you know of debunk it? Do you think it will ever be proven or disproven for certain? What amount of evidence would be needed for that to happen?

  • Did this documentary change your views on conservation or scientific research? Much of the fossilized evidence scientists collect comes at the expense of ancient rock formations. Is this a good trade-off? How are limits on research established? Who calls the shots about when preserving nature takes precedence? How far do you think they should go?

  • Do you think the media serves an educational purpose? How much of what you see on TV could be considered educational? What other shows have you seen that teach you something? Can TV ever be used as a teaching tool? If so, how? 

TV details

Cast:David Attenborough
Network:Discovery Channel
TV rating:TV-PG

This review of First Life with David Attenborough was written by

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Educator and Parent Written bylennylynx April 9, 2013

Is Any Form Of Life Really "Simple"

I watched the First Life with David Attenborough. Once again he refers to "the simple cell" and how it evolved into advanced life. It is a fact that some respected scientists say that even the "simple cell" is far too complex to have come about by chance. The complex molecules in the simplest living thing cannot reproduce alone. Outside the cell, they break down. Inside the cell , they cannot reproduce without the help of other complex molecules. e.g., enzymes are needed to produce a special energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), but energy from ATP is needed to produce enzymes. Similarly, DNA is required to make enzymes, but enzymes are required to make DNA. Also other proteins can be made only by a cell, but a cell can be made only with proteins. How is it possible for nature to make life, especially under what evolutionists say were unstable and uncontrollable conditions. Even some evolutionist say a hostile early environment was present. Yet scientists today are failing to "create life" with all the experimental conditions controlled. The advance of microbiology has made it possible to peer into the "simple cell". One such cell is the prokaryotic cell. This cell has a sophisticated tough , flexible membrane which in many ways protects the cell, shielding it from a potentially hostile environment. This membrane is not solid though, it allows the cell to "breathe", permitting small molecules, such as oxygen, to pass in or out. But the membrane blocks more complex , potentially damaging molecules from entering without the cells permission. The membrane also prevents useful molecules from leaving the cell. I have investigated some of the facts into how this "simple cell" manages these feats and it is truly remarkable although extremely complex. The Internet with its millions of computers and high speed data cables, is clumsy in comparison. The technical brilliance evident in this most basic of cells is beyond the scope of human invention.


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