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Overall Rating
4.25

Awesome50%
Worth A Look: 38.64%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 6.82%

4 reviews, 20 user ratings


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Winged Migration
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by Robert Flaxman

"Boldly going where no camera crew has gone before."
4 stars

First released in France almost eighteen months ago, Winged Migration takes the audience somewhere they could never have gone on their own. The film tracks the migratory patterns of a number of bird species as they fly north for the summer and then back south for the winter. What is astonishing about the film, though, is how it is able to show the flights of birds.

Through various methods (one of which involved exposing birds' eggs to the sounds of the film crew so the adult birds would not be scared by them later), Jacques Perrin and his crew were able to capture incredible images of birds in flight. One need only view the film's trailer to see just a handful of the images Perrin collects. The camera flies alongside the birds, allowing the viewer an intimate look at the motion of a flying bird as well as the extraordinary group dynamic.

It is difficult to do the visuals of the film justice in text form. In one scene the camera is so close to one bird in flight that we can see the fine feathers on its head being swept back by the wind. It is, along with many other shots, a majestic sight.

The narration, delivered in English by Philippe Labro, appears infrequently and seems mostly designed to make sure everyone is paying attention, as little can be gleaned from it that was not explained by the opening title card. Some, though not all, of the bird species shown have their migratory patterns described in subtitles.

In addition to the overall "story" of the migrations, Perrin works little vignettes into the film, such as a scene where a parrot captured on the Amazon escapes from its cage and flies back into the forest. In the opening sequence a goose is trapped in a net and cut free by a young boy; Perrin returns to that goose in flight several times throughout the film. Another story involves an old woman attempting to feed a group of cranes. On their first stop they fly away as she approaches them; on their return they approach her and eat right out of her hand. It is a touching sight.

Perrin contrasts the help from humans with the things they do that contribute to the treacherousness of the birds' journeys, such as when he shows a goose separated from its flock when it gets trapped in industrial sludge in Eastern Europe (whether or not it gets free is never shown, though one hopes the crew aided it once they had stopped rolling). The prime example of this is the hunting sequence, in which several geese are shown being shot out of the sky. It is a painful sequence to watch, evocative - perhaps deliberately - of a similar sequence in Jean Renoir's classic The Rules of the Game. Other scenes show, perhaps too explicitly, other dangers, such as a bird with a broken wing beset by sand crabs and a penguin chick killed by another bird in full view of its parents, who can do little besides squawk.

These scenes, however explicit, serve a very distinct purpose. Shortly after the hunting sequence, Perrin tracks the same flock of geese - now less several members - on a flight near Manhattan Island. Very visible in the background of two distinct shots are the twin towers of the World Trade Center. As the film displays the dangers and hardships birds must endure, and describes the long distances they must fly, the viewer may perhaps wonder if it is worth it. Perrin sojourns briefly in the Amazon, depicting bird species which do not migrate (they have no reason to, climate-wise). The film is largely unconcerned with such birds, however. Those that undergo long migrations display an indomitable spirit mirroring that which their human counterparts displayed in the wake of 9/11. It's not a perfect analogy, and it may not even have been Perrin's intention - but his highlighting of the connection between humans and birds elsewhere in the film suggests that he knew what he was doing here, especially since it is unlikely he would have left in footage of the now-destroyed buildings unless he had a specific purpose in displaying them. Coming as it does on the heels of the deaths of the birds, the tie-in seems apparent. Nature dictates that life goes on, however it does for a given species.

Winged Migration is, visually, an astounding documentary. Inasmuch as it has a real "plot," it takes on a few too many strands and gets a bit fragmentary (especially in its Amazon stopover, which has nothing to do with the migration theme; thus its main purpose seems to be for the escaping parrot to back the "never say die" idea), but it at least succeeds in sustaining its message, and the power of nature is evident in nearly every frame.

Winged Migration is, unquestionably, about as good as nature documentary gets.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7543&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/11/04 18:35:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/18/08 PAUL SHORTT EACH MOVING PICTURE FRAME IS WORTH A THOSAND WORDS AND A MILLION EMOTIONS 4 stars
1/30/07 action movie fan splendid documentary of mostly sea and pond birds on the wing--feels like we are flying too 5 stars
7/29/06 David Cohen Distracting music, narration adds nothing, tends to be redundant 3 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Beautiful. 4 stars
6/10/05 DM Gorgeous to look at, with a stirring soundtrack. 4 stars
1/06/05 Cody I dont like watching fake birds 1 stars
9/11/04 Naturezrevenge Once again, Nature's beauty kicks our asses. Potent, gorgeous, unpretentious and awesome! 5 stars
8/07/04 Jack Cool movie -- nature for nature's sake. No annoying commentary, no CGI, no explosions. 5 stars
6/30/04 The More You Know Reading topiary books has been more enjoyable than listening to Perrin, he ruins it for me. 3 stars
4/17/04 Michael Greenwaldt It's all about the cinematography, and luckily, it's quite beautiful. 4 stars
9/03/03 Tim Dalrymple Those who said this 'sucks' must not've seen it. Incredible! 5 stars
8/27/03 Dr. Robert Martin, Jr Astonishing and brilliant filming of worthy subjects! 5 stars
8/20/03 miranda beautifully filmed but (not sure why)I was a little disappointed in the movie 4 stars
8/01/03 Double G birds, i eat them. so does jurgen humdinger ed 1 stars
7/30/03 Yelena Very Good 5 stars
7/30/03 ownerofdajoint unique and brilliant.....see it before it's gone.... 5 stars
7/16/03 Doug Mackenzie Visually spectacular and spiritually uplifting (sorry!), but needs a better commentary. 5 stars
7/15/03 ownerofdajoint once in a great while a movie like this comes along;go see it... 5 stars
5/20/03 LARRY SUCKS 1 stars
5/19/03 Andrew Carden Excellent Direction & Cinematography; Beautiful Locations; Should've Won The Oscar. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Apr-2003 (G)
  DVD: 22-Nov-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  19-Jun-2003


Directed by
  Jacques Perrin

Written by
  Jacques Perrin
  Stephane Durand

Cast
  Jacques Perrin



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