From beginning to end, The Human Body is a rare visual and aural treat. One might fear that seeing heart and lung tissue from the viewpoint of a passing red blood cell might be ugly and gross, but this is rarely the case thanks to David Barlow's specialist photography. While strictly adhering to scientific accuracy, every human organ displayed in the course of this film displays an abstract beauty and brilliant shading that enlightens and surprises.

While X-ray and thermal photography of a bike-riding teenager has its cartoon aspect, the luxurious hues of a functioning body offer a never-before-seen palette of colors. Only one of the many explorations of bodily processes may upset the squeamish: close ups of recently swallowed food bobbing like fresh garbage in the acid bath of the intestines. The film hangs its examination of physiological adventures on four people--eight-year-old Zannah, teenage Luke, Uncle Buster and pregnant Aunt Heather, an American couple anticipating their first child. They are temporarily living together in a lovely upper-middle-class suburban home photographed in such pristine fashion that it resembles more a museum display than an actual dwelling. While attention is paid to the interior workings of each of the people above (for instance, when Uncle Buster cuts himself shaving, we learn that his body is replacing red blood cells at the rate of two million per second!), the primary focus is on Heather's forthcoming baby. At several points, she candidly shares her feelings on the process of becoming a mother. We also hear from various children how adolescents regard the changes their bodies are going through.

Every bit of flesh and blood is examined with electron-microscope precision, from the largest cell in the body, the female egg, to the smallest, the male sperm. The narrative is always enlightening, while remaining wholesome enough for the most fastidious audience. Fertility expert Robert Winston delivers it with sophisticated British elegance and authority.

Neither does The Human Body flinch from bad news. It may be depressing to learn that while we are born with one trillion brain cells, ten thousand of them die every 24 hours. But look on the bright side. We gain a hundred billion new red blood cells every day, not to mention 40 yards of hair.

Only 43 minutes long, The Human Body is one of the most successful large-format productions ever made. Its visual fireworks could never be as effective on smaller screens. And while many pontificate about the miracle of Homo sapiens, few have demonstrated it so persuasively. This extraordinary film is as beautiful as it is salutary.

--Bruce Feld