Monday, December 29, 2003

Winged Migration

Winged Migration is a new documentary filmed over four years that follows many species of bird as they migrate across the planet. The distinctive visuals of this particular nature film arise from the way the birds were filmed. They were all raised by humans, taught to not fear engine noise (the light aircraft used during filming), and were purposely imprinted on specific people they would then follow anywhere. Thus, the shots are spectacular in that you, dear viewer, have the impression you are right in amongst the flock during migration because, well, you are. Like everyone (reviewers, pundits, and random street interviews) has said, it's great movie.

The extras on the DVD include a "making of" movie that's as long and as interesting as the flick itself, so you get two, two, TWO movies in one. Most of the narration is English floating in French accents so thick you can barely pick out the snails in the cream, as it were. (It was primarily a French production. Pundits will smile with ironic amusement when geese land on a French military vessel for a sleepover. Who knew they even existed?) However, it does kind of tickle those old Jacque Cousteau endorphins those of us of a certain age have. If only they'd had a couple throaty Marlin Perkins voice-overs explaining how he was going to send Jim up in the light aircraft to film the geese rather than put his own ass on the line, it would've felt complete.

It's fair to say, though, that aside from the stunning wing-to-wing aerial photography, this is a pretty standard nature film. This is not meant to detract from the achievement, btw.

The music is at times cloying and most other times simply annoying. It appears they tried to mate the incidental music to the region the birds are flying over - Russia, America, France and so on, but the only real effect is it keeps you wondering why the hell is the music so intrusive. Often it just degrades into groans and hyperkinetic tinkling reminiscent of Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi score. The incidental narration is so incidental and unnecessary, feel free to turn the sound way down if the music makes your teeth itch.

The movie begins with a little intro that states there were no special effects used in the movie, which I think is just a little bit of bullshit. It's obvious that all the breathtaking in-flight stuff is real. But there are two transitional segments where the camera is looking down on some continents - a near space-level shot - and a small bird wings its way up, past the camera, and back down to earth, presumably heading towards another continent. Expecting us to believe that they had a camera in the exact place in the whole huge sky where a little bird would pass is asking for a suspension of disbelief that would hoist Alec Baldwin's ego. I'm sure they meant all the flying stuff is real and expected us to just know when we saw a shot that was impossible, it was conjured in a computer.

Still, definitely put this on your "must see" list, but put it off until it's a week or a dollar rental - or available at your local library. It's a great film for the whole clan and holds to it's "G" rating. My family unit laughed, went "awwww" at the babies, and had fun inventing dialogue for the various avian encounters throughout.

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