49 UP — *** 1/2 — Documentary series about aging; not rated, probable PG-13 (vulgarity, mild profanity, brief drugs, nude artwork); see Page W2 for theaters.

In a way, the "Up" film series could be considered one of the first reality-television programs. After all, the first installment, "Seven Up," was originally broadcast in several parts on "World in Action," an English television news program back in the '60s.

The subsequent films — six in all — have been more educational and smarter than most of the so-called "reality-television." In fact, each film is better, deeper and broader than the one before it.

But that's how the "Up" concept works. Filmmaker Michael Apted — who worked as a researcher for "World in Action" — has been keeping track of the original dozen or so Brits who were interviewed for the program when they were seven years old.

He's tried to catch up with the same group every seven years to see how their lives have changed. (Though over time, a handful of the original interview subjects have opted not to be included.)

"49 Up," which condenses a nearly four-hour television project, sees the now-middle-aged Brits consumed with their respective marriages, families and careers.

Seemingly perpetual bachelor Bruce Balden, who was seen getting married in this film's predecessor, "42: Forty Two Up," is now a parent. And things are better on the homefront for cabbie Tony Walker.

Apted also reunites Symon Basterfield and Paul Kligerman, who were raised in the same orphanage but haven't seen each other in years.

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That reunion is one of the film's happier moments, though it's nice as well to see that the former "world traveler" (or transient) Neil Hughes has found fulfillment through his work as a public servant.

It helps that the interviewees are so candid and open with Apted — even if one of them makes a snide remark about how humdrum some of the conversations are. But surprisingly, the discussions of normal, average-life events are pretty fascinating and relatable. The films continue to be part of a moving sociological portrait of England and everyday life.

"49 Up" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for suggestive language and references (slang and mild profanity), drug content (references), and glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 134 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com