Jacques Perrin, producer of such hugely successful French films as the exciting Z and the compelling Cinema Paradiso, has turned to films about nature, such as Microcosmos (insects) and Himalaya for his more recent successes. Winged Migration has the potential in sheer amazement of imagery to fly to the top of his list. In it, he provides minimalist narration, allowing the pictures to astound you not only at their majesty but at what made them possible.
What you witness here are, after all, sustained close-ups of birds in flight. To achieve this heavenly pursuit, 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers, in five teams, followed a variety of bird migrations through 40 countries and each of the seven continents. As impressive as these numbers are, they become a mere footnote when you see the results, covering landscapes from the Eiffel Tower and Monument Valley to the remote reaches of the Arctic and the Amazon.
The pinnacle of its achievement lies in the tools its creators used, suggesting that progress is being made in areas beyond battlefields. Techniques and machines, this picture proves, can be put in the service of accompanying birds on the wing. The machines employed include planes, gliders, helicopters, balloons, and ingeniously designed cameras. Add to that innovative techniques and mastery of the machines to pull off something most of us would have thought impossible. Who but this team would think that flying alongside, above, and below a flock on the fly would not only be doable but be accepted by the subjects.
As you watch this, you can't help wondering what the birds must have thought of the outlandish devices that suddenly appeared in their midst, to fly with them as they progressed along the wind currents. Well, perhaps if the birds were freaked out by the sudden appearance of man and his machine, they weren't able to just fly away -- they were already flying away and probably disinclined to break up the formation of the flock. On the other hand, perhaps it's more what you see when you dive in the ocean and swim with the fish. The very fact of being in their element seems to put them at ease in the companionship of alien intruders who aren't threatening them. Inquisitiveness is a powerful, perhaps dominating, instinct in nature.
The migratory flights are presented as a continuous stream of separate episodes, as varied as they are majestic, almost otherworldly in their intimacy with a phenomenon that has heretofore only been witnessed at a great distance. The question of "what would it be like" is answered. These visions are so close and detailed, you are provided with a sense of lift and soaring like no film has ever provided. It is real but with the spookiness of unreality and a persistent feeling of impossibility.
It is what a trip on acid might want as a visual accompaniment. It is what a sermonizing preacher might project in order to provide celestial inspiration to his flock. It provides a kind of spellbinding fascination that envelops you at a planetarium show.
It is, however, longish, repetitive, and almost too much exhilaration for one sitting. But, if you're in the mood for a film of staggering beauty that will open your eyes to one of the wonders of the natural world breathtakingly captured in all its glory, color, and movement, this is a must see.
How'd they do all this? An exhaustive documentary on the DVD shows how the birds were trained and these amazing photographs were taken. Definitely worth a look.
Aka Le Peuple migrateur.
Needs nose job.
Run time: 89 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 12th December 2001
Box Office USA: $10.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $20.2M
Distributed by: Sony Classic Pictures
Production compaines: Bac Films, Canal+, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), Conseil Régional de Franche-Comté, Eurimages, Eyescreen S.r.l., France 2 Cinéma, Galatée Films, Les Productions de la Guéville, Pandora Filmproduktion, Procirep, Télévision Suisse-Romande (TSR), Wanda Visión S.A., Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR)
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 127 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Screenwriter: Jacques Perrin, Stéphane Durand
Starring: Philippe Labro as Narrator, Jacques Perrin as Narrator (voice)
Also starring: Christophe Barratier
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