Thursday, May 29, 2003

Winged Migration (IMDB) (Netflix)
A documentary about birds and, well, their migrations. The filmmakers cover all the continents and an overwhelming variety of birds, from Rockhopper Penguins to Arctic Terns, which annually fly 12,600 miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and back (stupid terns). Without special effects or computer-generated imagery, we're along for the ride, so close that we can hear the wings beating.

If the birds are the stars, the photography and the flying technology used to get the cameras right inside those ragged V-formations should also be on the marquee. The army of photographers used ultralight planes and other non-instrusive craft to fly among the birds, and it's extremely dramatic footage that stands on its own (there's a scene of herd of crabs closing in on injured bird that's truly gripping). Unfortunately, they couldn't resist the urge to overlay some Jacques Cousteau-esque philosphical narration, but it's sparsely used. The music is also sporadic, and of uneven quality, and there are a few politically oriented scenes that seem out of place (the play-it-straight footage will on its own melt the heart of the most hardened clear-cutter). What was underdone, unfortunately, were the bird and place names, and the American Bald Eagle, which only makes a cameo appearance.

A far-above-average nature flick long on stunning visuals and short on explication.