Dropping by on the same people every seven years like an old friend -- or an unwelcome relative -- Apted has constructed a peerless, suspenseful work that develops character to a depth that would make Tolstoy jealous.
When I saw 42 Up in 1999, I thought the series had run its natural course and that it was time to leave the "kids" alone. I was wrong. They have just entered a new and exciting phase of lives that are very much works in progress.
I won't bother you with all the particulars because that would steal the film's thunder. Know, though, that Apted includes enough footage from previous films to remind us of details we may have forgotten.
49 Up marks the latest chapter in one of the most ambitious documentary projects in movie history. Make that the history of any medium, for how often do we get to witness a time-lapse study of human life?
This long documentary is captivating. Not because you're peeking at lives of real people, but because it captures the way time heals all wounds and how people find a way out of deep holes if they are determined to do so.
To the extent that it opens a window into the puzzling business of growing older and affirms - with touching reflectiveness and exuberant humor -- the suspicion that we are all in the same boat, 49 Up is priceless.
In the same way that none of us ever do turn out as expected, neither do they. And that's more or less the point of continuing the series, even as they drone on about their disappointing marriages and dashed dreams, just like the rest of us.