If humans were to suddenly disappear, what would happen to our planet – the structures we’ve built, the everyday items we take for granted, domesticated and wild animals, plants, trees? What would become of the things that define our species and leave our mark on this Earth?
Visit the ghostly villages surrounding Chernobyl (abandoned by humans after the 1986 nuclear disaster), travel to remote islands off the coast of Maine to search for abandoned town that have vanished from view in only a few decades, then head beneath the streets of New York to see how subway tunnels may become watery canals.
The History Channel takes you on an amazing visual journey in Life After People, a thought-provoking adventure that combines movie-quality visual effects with insights from experts in the fields of engineering, botany, ecology, biology, geology, climatology, and archeology to demonstrate how the very landscape of our planet will change in our absence.
eyelights: its mind-blowing concept.
eyesores: its superficial approach.
“Time has run out for man. Our hold on the planet is over. Welcome to Earth. Population: zero.”
‘Life After People’ is a 2008 TV movie that explore the impact that humanity’s disappearance would have on the planet. Its broadcast broke records, becoming the History Channel’s most watched program ever. It was subsequently redubbed for the UK and Australian markets and it spawned a full-fledged series.
I have been aware of the show since its release. The concept is so mind-blowing that I’d been eager to watch it ever since; I just couldn’t find a time for it. But, after revisiting the desolate landscapes of ‘I Am Legend‘ (and its two predecessors), my hunger for exploring this scenario was renewed.
Beyond its premise, which doesn’t explain humanity’s disappearance, what makes ‘Life After People’ fascinating is two-fold:
1. There’s the approach, which consists of breaking down the changes on a timeline – at first incrementally, within hours and days, and then with progressively longer jumps in time. This provides a contrast, but it also gives the viewer perspective by cementing the effects of time in one’s mind.
2. There’s the visuals. With the aid of low-grade CGI, ‘Life After People’ shows us what the world would look like after nature is left to its own devices. Some of the world’s most awe-inspiring cities and structures were given regular revamps to show us what they would look like through the years.
The problem with the 90-minute programme is that it feels thin on details. While it covers a lot of ground, it seems to do it in a haphazard fashion: touching on a subject at point in time, but skipping it altogether the rest of the time – notable exceptions being the Great Pyramids and the Hoover Dam.
A perfect example of this problem is that it discusses the survival of pets in the early moments, focusing on dogs. But it’s only at the 150 year mark that cats are discussed, suggesting that they would use the shells of skyscrapers as hunting and breeding ground. But what happened to them in the preceding years?
…and what of the dogs by that point?
I suppose that these subjects and many others are likely explored to greater depth in the two full-length seasons (although one wonders how much the producers can milk the premise), but I understand why some people were left unsatisfied with ‘Life After Death’: it leaves too many loose ends along the way, too many questions unanswered.
With the help of various specialists, the show does explore some of the science behind the decay of human civilization, which was a nice touch. Seeing how environments act on man’s creations was eye-opening: without regular maintenance, everything that we’ve built falls apart over time – even concrete.
Of course, much of the effects of time are somewhat speculative, and based on the most unlikely premise: that humanity would simply vanish out of thin air – something that simply wouldn’t happen. The reality is that nearly 7 billion people would perish and decay, and the cause of their death would be a variable.
But ‘Life After People’ does use the most perfect example to support itself: Chernobyl. It had been 20 years since the explosion when the show was made, and they visited the nearby town of Pripyat, which was completely evacuated due to the radiation levels in the region and has remained deserted ever since.
I already knew that the wildlife had returned, but I was under the impression that it was affected by the radiation. In ‘Life After People’ it is suggested that the wildlife and flora is flourishing, that without humanity in the way, nature recovers far faster than ever imagined. That was reassuring to hear.
But I wish that the programme had presented more detail of this sort. Instead, it offered a heavily dramatized look at “life after people” – complete with a thundering action film soundtrack to add tension. A scientific approach rather than a sensationalistic one would certainly have lent it more credibility.
They should also have put more money into it, making it look like a serious treatment instead of a second-tier production (the CGI effects painting our world after people were particularly poor). But I suspect that the History Channel only has so much money to pump into any production of theirs.
Perhaps, in light of its success, the series will be more fleshed out. I am kind of curious, actually. Even though I can’t fathom how much more the series will be able to explore the subject, I like the premise enough that a part of me hopes that they will do it justice. And I intend to find out.
Until then, ‘Life After People’ can only be considered a teaser for what’s to come.
Post scriptum: for a full list of all the changes discussed over the course of the whole series, here is a comprehensive timeline of ‘Life After People’: http://lifeafterpeople.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline
Date of viewing: January 20, 2015