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Series / Eyewitness

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A series of nature and science documentaries by the BBC and Dorling Kindersley between 1994 and 1997, based on the book series of the same name. The series attempts to capture the minimalistic, hyperrealistic essence of the books through the use of a plain white background, the "Eyewitness Museum", created using computer animation combined with stock footage, filmed sets, and live animals; in the series itself occasionally uses realistic elaborate sets, live (and animated) vignettes, and stock footage of relevant content shown as windows and depressions in the wall.

The series was narrated by Andrew Sachs in the UK release; the US dub was narrated by Martin Sheen for the first two seasons, with Sachs taking over for the third season, in which his original British voice was dubbed into American English. The video releases for the first two seasons include a short "The Making of Eyewitness" featurette after the episode which shows how that particular episode was created.

The show also had many Edutainment Game spin-offs released over the years such as Eyewitness Virtual Reality.

Not to be confused with the 2016 USA Network mystery/thriller series of the same name starring Julianne Nicholson.

This series contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Biology: In Desert, it is stated that tumbleweeds have no roots, and get the moisture they need from rolling on the ground. Tumbleweeds, in the tumbling phase, tend to be dead plants, and hence would not need to absorb water.
  • Artistic License – Geology: The depiction of the Triassic period supercontinent Pangea in Prehistoric Life shows what would become Australia being attached to the southern cone of South America, with the narrator explaining that this was the reason they had animals in common. In truth, South America, Antarctica, India, Africa, and Australia were part of a region of Pangea called Gondwanaland, which became a separate supercontinent over time. They would've been connected relative to their positions today. An animated depiction of continental drift depicted in other episodes portrayed the drift more accurately.
  • Art Shift: The series' intro (along with the main room emphasized in the episode) changes with as the series progresses.
  • Big Eater: In Butterfly and Moth, how big the appetites of caterpillars are is shown by videos of hungry caterpillars juxtaposed with vignettes of a Sharp-Dressed Man eating an enormous salad. The narrator explains that for the man to eat like a caterpillar he'd have to eat a whole mountain's worth of salad (about 40 pounds, daily).
  • Bizarrchitecture: The museum itself. The first theme has levels transitioning laterally, which is kind of trippy, if the intro is to be believed.
  • Call-Back: A possible one. Episode 3 of Series 1, Cat, has one to the previous episode, Bird. The narrator in Cat makes a mention of how cats are ready to respond to anything, and the corresponding footage shows a cat reacting to a raven, one of the last birds to be focused on in the eponymous second episode.
  • Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth: Prehistoric Life alludes to the cockroach's ability to survive as the key to its long-running success since the Carboniferous. note 
  • Cool Cat: Cat showcases the predatory instincts of the feline family, evolution having honed every cat to become a swift, silent and efficient hunter, all set to a cool jazz soundtrack.
  • Cool Horse: Horse naturally explores this trope in human culture. We didn't truly "tame" the horse, the narrator muses, but merely harnessed its energy for our use. And their coolness captivates us to this day.
  • Cosmic Egg: When talking about the symbolism of eggs in Bird, one story mentioned is the Egyptian myth of the god Khnum forming a cosmic egg from the mud of the Nile River.
  • Dem Bones: Smedley, the skeleton featured in the titular episode.
  • Elephants Are Scared of Mice: Averted; Elephant alluded to the myth and dismissed it as an old wives' tale. Real Life Writes the Plot in this one as well; one of elephants featured in the studio became very curious of the mouse, which instead was very scared of the elephant.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Rock & Mineral delves into this when discussing the allure and cultural impact of gemstones.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Usually, but like the books, the content extends to related subjects; Ape, for instance, also tackles monkeys and other primates. Human Machine, however, takes it to a ludicrous extreme with a mime acting like a robot throughout the episode.
  • "Far Side" Island: Shown in the third series intro and the main focus of Island.
  • Hair-Trigger Avalanche: Discussed in Natural Disasters. When discussing avalanches, the narrator mentions Swiss legends that avalanches can be caused by the chime of a bell, the crack of a whip, or even the beating of a bird's wing.
  • Haute Cuisine Is Weird: Bird mentions the expensive Chinese delicacy known as bird's nest soup, made from the nest of the cave swiftlet. The narrator mentions that it has little actual nutritional value or taste.
  • The Hero: Every episode seems to have animal or object in focus, which is constantly referred to. With few exceptions, most of them are what the episode is about.
    • Mammal focused on the development of 6 mammalian embryos: baby mice, kittens, a baby human girl, a kangaroo joey, a baby elephant, and a dolphin.
    • Dinosaur had a claymation T. rex referred to as "Legs" in the "Making of" documentary.
    • Prehistoric Life had a cockroach.
    • Tree had an oak tree (a scaled-down model specifically made for the series) that bursts explosively from the ground.
    • Weather has a weathervane chicken, which comes to life when Zeus strikes it with lightning at the very end of the episode. note 
    • Plant focused on a dandelion.
    • Human Machine had a robotic mime.
    • Ape had a baby female chimpanzee.
    • Mountain had a mountaineer.
    • Jungle had a squirrel monkey.
    • Pond and River had a paper boat that was floating downstream.
    • Seashore had a crab.
    • Skeleton has Smedley the skeleton.
    • Dog features a dog named "Connell" according the "Making of" documentary.
    • Natural Disasters has a rabbit, which naturally survives the destruction of the museum in the end.
    • Survival has a fox.
    • Planets has a starship.
    • Butterfly & Moth has a monarch butterfly
    • Arctic & Antarctic featured a penguin and a husky dog
    • Horse has a model carousel with images of equids in human culture.
    • Bird has a baby duckling, filmed hatching in real time.
    • Life features a tortoise and a set of animated microorganisms; the latter are used to illustrate key concepts surrounding life and evolution.
    • While both elephant species identified at the time were featured in Elephant, the baby African elephant took center stage (and was everyone's favorite on-set, going by The Making of Eyewitness).
    • Fish had salmon.
  • The Hero Dies:
    • Fish ends with the very end of the salmon's life cycle, showing a mated pair laying and fertilizing eggs and perishing in the stream beds where they were born.
    • The oak tree in Tree gets chopped down.
    • In Plant, the dandelion gets pulled out by a gardener.
    • In Life, the microorganisms being followed perish just as the narrator describes that there isn't any living thing that doesn't eventually die.
  • A Hero Is Born: The "protagonist" of Bird is a baby duckling hatching out of its egg, fluffing up its feathers and learning to walk.
  • Hordes from the East: Horse includes a bit about Genghis Khan building his vast empire with armies mounted on horseback.
  • Horseback Heroism: In the same episode, the very coolness of the horse is infectious enough to turn ordinary people into heroes in the human imagination.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The end of Monster, combined with Your Mind Makes It Real: the most frightening of all monsters is the very concept of the monster as it exists in the human psyche.
  • "Just So" Story: Some episodes mention mythological stories of this nature.
    • In Bird, the raven's rasping caw is explained by the folktale of a raven that was sent by the gods to fetch water, but waited around for some figs to ripen. When it returned late with the water, the gods punished it with eternal thirst.
    • Elephant retells Rudyard Kipling's story of how the elephant got its long trunk when a crocodile pulled on its nose while it was drinking from a river.
    • Bear features a Chinese folktale in which pandas where said to have had pure white fur before they attended the funeral of a little girl, spreading ashes on their fur in mourning and creating their black markings.
    • Cat shows that in Hindu mythology, the tiger was created by Shiva to inspire fear into the hearts of men after seeing how fearless man was.
    • Ape has several:
      • One tells a story from Cameroon about a man who disguised himself as a monkey with the help of a potion in order to find his daughter, who was kidnapped by a group of monkeys. In this disguise, he joined a monkey troop and took a monkey bride. By the time he found his daughter, he had raised a new half monkey-half man family and they, according to the legend, were the first chimpanzees.
      • A Hindu story tells of a monkey stealing mangoes from a giant's garden. As punishment, the giant burned its hands and face. And now all Hanuman langurs have black faces and hands.
      • In a Tagalog myth from the Philippines, the creator god Bathala made a man from clay. The clay slipped from his hands and he caught the figure by the lower end of its back which stretched into a long tail. Bathala, making the best of a bad job, said, "You will be a monkey and live in the trees forever."
  • Later Instalment Weirdness: Season Three does have as much of a clear theme to its episode lineup compared to Seasons One and Two: whereas the first was all animals with a single epsode for a habitat (jungles) and the second was a mix of natural and earth sciences, just for one example two episodes are about monsters and the human body. There were also a lot more original episodes not based off pre-existing books.
  • Leitmotif: A snippet of the main theme is remixed within every episode to match the soundtrack, which usually reflects the culture associated with the subject. For instance, Jungle has a soundtrack based on Latin music, Cat has one based on scat and jazz, etc.
  • Mating Dance: Bird features an extended sequence in which several species of birds perform mating dances, synchronized to music and complete with a "bow" at the end by a mated pair.
  • Medusa: She makes two appearances, one in Reptile when discussing snakes in mythology, and the other in in Monster when discussing monsters from Greek mythology.
  • Mishmash Museum: The museum where the series takes place. Not only does it have animals running around it, but it also has paintings that show stock footage. As shown by the intro sequence, it also has an airplane, car, prism, and a pool with a little island in it, among others.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: Arctic and Antarctic has some of this vibe going on with its eerie music playing over footage of the bare polar wastes and discussion of the various supernatural myths and stories the Polar Regions have inspired, including The Snow Queen and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Palatial Sandcastle: Seashore features shots of a somewhat ordinary-looking sandcastle throughout its runtime, but in the end sequence, we get to travel through the castle's gate and see that it actually contains many twisting passageways that extend below the water level and ultimately lead to a room full of buried treasures. (The "Making Of" feature for the episode shows that the "castle" was really multiple sets, not one structure.)
  • Scenery Porn: The realistic sets used in the series are remarkably detailed.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Part of Dinosaur's Leitmotif sounds reminiscent of the bombastic themes used in Jurassic Park; the other half sounds vaguely Victorian or Edwardian, a reference to the initial wave of dinosaur discoveries in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
    • The spaceship`s theme in Planets sounds very similar to the Star Trek fanfare.
  • Signature Style: It utilizes white to help the material (plants, props, artifacts, live animals, and human actors) stand out; occasionally, the series does occasionally use an elaborate, realistic set from time, sometimes with the white still present in the background.
  • Stock Footage: The series utilizes footage from documentaries, old movies, and cartoons.
  • Trash the Set: Natural Disaster, the final episode to air, ends with a meteor smashing into the Eyewitness Museum. Given it was the finale, you can draw a pretty bad conclusion it is no more.
  • Visual Pun: Bird begins with a shot of a bird's egg (an ostrich's, according to the Making Of feature) dramatically exploding and numerous macaws bursting out of it while taking flight. An egg-splosion, if you will.