July 26th, 2017

DVD Review: Life in a Day

DVD cover.

Life in a Day (United Kingdom, 2011)
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

DVD released: February 9th, 2012
Distributed by: Transmission Films
Format: 1 × Region 4 (PAL) DVD9

The Film

“We asked people around the world to film their lives and answer a few simple questions.

We received 4,500 hours of video from 192 countries.

All of it shot on a single day: 24th July 2010.”

So opens Life in a Day, a film compiled from footage submitted to YouTube by ordinary people all over the world. It sounds like just the kind of BBC telemovie crap that could make you sick, an assumption not helped by the brightly-coloured promotional material showing people of all shapes, sizes and colours doing worldly things like driving goats, diving into picturesque lagoons or skydiving over desert. Oh, isn’t human life so diverse and amazing?


But once you actually start watching it, it’s impossible – impossible – not to get drawn into the laughter and drama of human life. The film is structured around a number of themes: love, children, illness, food, death; and the footage is absolutely amazing in its diversity. Within twenty minutes I was crying with laughter and sadness and joy and god knows what else, and waves of emotion kept coming back again and again. Curse humans for being such tragically beautiful creatures.

Sitting somewhere between the Up series and Godrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy, Life in a Day is a beautiful, hyper-subjective depiction of human life in all its wonderful and terrible forms.

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Video: ★★★

Whittled down from 4,500 hours of video shot by over 300 people at 60 different frame rates and on countless devices of differing quality, video in Life in a Day is patchy at best. It varies from beautifully cinematic footage of Ukrainian goat herders filmed by a professional filmmaker with Tarkovsky-like cinematography, to harshly-lit scenes of an English university graduate and his Dad filmed on a noisy, reflective mobile phone camera.

Macdonald and Walker converted all their source footage to 24fps to minimise the jarring transition between shots, but it still jumps back and forth from 1.85:1 widescreen to full-frame, brightly lit to nearly pitch dark, and HD quality to filmed-through-a-potato, so it’s difficult to judge the DVD transfer. But if you’re sitting down to watch a documentary sourced from YouTube clips, poor video quality is to be expected. It looks surprisingly good considering its source material.

Subtitles: Hard-coded English translations of non-English speech; English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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Audio: ★★★★

As with video, the audio which accompanies each clip varies greatly in quality, but layered over certain points of the film are a number of songs composed (or rather, assembled) by the British electronic found-sound artist Matthew Herbert. Using sounds sampled from among the 80,000 submitted videos, Herbert distorts, modulates and loops hand claps, voices, scratches, beeps and whispers and a cacophony of other sounds into pieces of vastly differing moods.

Audio is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround but since most of the source audio is stereo and the original music isn’t particularly spacious, this is one DVD which doesn’t particularly benefit from a surround mix. Having said that, the audio mix balances the widely varying sources of audio very well.

Audio tracks: Dolby Digital 5.1; Audio descriptions for the hearing impaired.

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Special Features: ★★★☆

Audio commentaries with director Kevin Macdonald and editor Joe Walker: I’m not quite sure why these two recorded separate audio commentaries, because they cover much of the same ground, but separate they are. Each filmmaker details various stories behind the production of the film, gives a little background to each of the clips as they come up, and occasionally details the cheating they had to do to “fix” certain clips. Thoroughly informative if not spectacularly entertaining.

Deleted and extended scenes (35:26): As you would expect, a number of themed collections of footage that didn’t make it into the final cut. The themes are: drums; watermelons; dance; footwork and travel; favourite sounds; the man who loves lifts; Afghanistan crossing; Indonesian masked monkeys; the shend (parts one and two); reflections on the nose; written all over him; a visit to my mother; Saudi Halloween; what makes you laugh?; an elderly couple in Rimini; a baby in Sao Paulo; Colorado cowboy; basketball-playing nonna; and naked Korean milk-spilling organist.

Kevin and Joe promo spots (13:56): Together, these five clips combine to form a sort of behind-the-scenes featurette where Macdonald and Walker explain the process of compiling, editing and finalising the film.

Life in a Day stop frame (1:20): A short stop-motion featurette produced to promote the film, similar to the promo spots but in much shorter time.

Ridley Scott on Life in a Day (1:47): A video interview with Ridley Scott recorded before the “day” in question, to encourage the participation of serious filmmakers in the project. Scott discusses his own filmmaking origins making a “day in the life” film following his brother in his youth, and has some wise words for people hoping to become filmmakers themselves.

The Verdict: ★★★☆


About Bradley J. Dixon

Bradley J. Dixon is a freelance writer and blogger from Melbourne.

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