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Born to Be Wild (IMAX)
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by Jay Seaver

3 stars

Even the coldest, meanest of people has a soft place in their hearts that wants to see this movie. After all, it's about orphaned baby animals and people who have made it their life's work to raise these cuties and return them to their habitats; who can argue with that. The filmmakers are banking on an immediate emotional reaction to the lovable animals followed by appreciation for the nobility of the cause, and once you've got those, dissecting it as a film is beside the point.

Director David Lickley presents us with two women doing this good work in parallel: In Kenya, we meet Daphne Sheldrick, who grew up on the grounds of a national park and now rescues baby elephants whose parents have been killed, mostly by poachers for their ivory. On the other side of the Indian Ocean, in Borneo, Dr. Birute Galdikas tends to orangutans, who are seldom hunted as such but have been crowded out of their habitats by expansion and deforestation. Both are intelligent women with dedicated teams, and neither aims to domesticate their charges; these animals will remain in their care only until they are able to fend for themselves in the wild.

Lickley and screenwriter Drew Fellman tell the story in a reasonably straightforward manner; we're given an introduction to each of these women, shown a rescue, some scenes of how the orphans are cared for, and a return to the wild. The details are interesting and informative, whether it be how these elephants require a lot of sunblock for their ears (normally, they would be shaded under the females of the herd or how orangutan "graduates" will often come back to visit Galdikas's camp. Narration (by Morgan Freeman) is used sparingly, mostly to set up a scene which plays out on its own.

As one might expect from a documentary produced by IMAX, the cinematography is beautiful. Most is shot on large format film (a few scenes were captured on 4K digital cameras), and the detail is amazing, with Lickley and director of photography David Douglas understanding the medium well enough to make sure that the audience has a chance to focus on a part of the screen and give things a close, considered look (this is crucial for viewing this sort of film in an IMAX theater, but may not translate as well to home video. The 3-D doesn't quite pop in the way it does for IMAX's sea- and space-based pictures, but the filmmakers do use it for subtler effects - we see the expansiveness of the plains on which the elephants live, and how the orangutans' jungle environment is a dense and pliable three-dimensional space.

As with many documentaries made to play before audiences of children and families in places like science museums, "Born to Be Wild" can have a somewhat muted feel to adult audiences. The dangers these animals face is kept somewhat at arms length, and the filmmakers don't spend much time on anything but the basics, and a high-level view of those. Unlike many docs of this sort, any call to activism is implicit in these animals being endangered individually and as a species.

But, on a certain level, an orangutan arriving at the shelter clutching a man on a motorcycle, and young elephants welcoming a new orphan to the group doesn't need a whole lot of elaboration. "Born to Be Wild" delivers its beautiful, heartwarming imagery with a minimum of fuss, and there's not much that can be said against that.

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originally posted: 07/01/11 02:54:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.

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  08-Apr-2011 (G)
  DVD: 17-Apr-2012


  DVD: 17-Apr-2012

Directed by
  David Lickley

Written by
  Drew Fellman


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