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Malone's Metamorphosis an Odd Change of Tone

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In a slight diversion from my usual bubblegum social commentary I want to review Metamorphosis: The Science of Change, the latest documentary from David Malone currently available on BBC iPlayer. In this standalone film Malone explores the science of alteration in nature, with the expected looks at the life cycles of caterpillars, sea urchins and tadpoles.

As you'd expect from any decent nature documentary there's plenty of "Ooh!" shots of X-rayed animals, underwater footage and some excellent time-lapse photography. An X-ray of a flatfish's eyeball traversing to the opposite side of its head stands out in particular. With a good variety of critters on display Metamorphosis is never dull to look at.

However right from the get go it's clear that this is a different sort of documentary from the usual BBC big budget nature-'em-up. Malone is on a quest to find a "deeper connection" to a profound "magical" truth about how humanity views change; no stranger to broader meaning is he, having made previous documentaries on the interpretation of time and the contrasting practices of science and religion. Sadly his pops at profundity are laid on a little thick: the use of 'inspirational' quotations to bookmark each chapter comes across as irritating and even a little lazy, his conclusions about people's attitude to change are vague almost to the point of pointlessness and the slow motion monochrome shots of water and bubbles flowing over Malone's face are laughably superfluous. We also get bizarre moments in the script where the language fails to live up to the lofty tone, such as "The juvenile has literally turned itself inside out - as if it were a sock." (Malone isn't the only presenter with this problem: who could forget Brian Cox's hilariously jarring "The chicken is radiating disorder into the universe!") In his solo pieces to camera Malone's hands twitch and jiggle like a magician learning sign language - a cool, disaffected Attenborough he ain't - and we're left with the impression that the forced emotional connection was an unwelcome distraction from the science.

That said, Malone is genuine in his efforts, not just parachuted into an unconnected subject to drum up viewers. This certainly isn't a repeat of ITV's stultifying inane and infamously terrible When Fearne Met Peaches, which along with the brutal capture of Colonel Gaddafi will go down as one of the most mind-numbingly awful things the human race has ever captured on film. Malone wrote and directed Metamorphosis himself, so his passion and interest in the subject matter appears refreshingly real. When it's time for some science or literature he doesn't actively shy away from it either: Kafka gets a quick look in and a nice discussion, which is a lot more intellectual stimulation than is available in the BBC's other docu-bibble, A Very British Wedding. I did find myself learning some genuinely fascinating things, particularly about the habits of tadpoles.

Since I mentioned Brian Cox a quick comparison might be in order - not a strictly fair one since they star in different sorts of program, but if forced to pick one in a TV presenter Top Trumps scenario I'd take Malone's thoughtful yet exaggerated style over Cox's slightly creepy grin and unwavering tone.

Despite the moralisation then, Metamorphosis is worth a look if you have a craving for time-lapse photography as you wait for yet further proof that Attenborough was telling porkies when he announced his retirement. Impressive visuals and a genuine presenter make it an hour worth investing.

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