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1 review, 5 user ratings

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Earthling (2005)
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by dionwr

"A really superb wild-life documentary, and a so-so human drama"
3 stars

You may not know the name Wolfgang Bayer, but you have almost certainly seen his work. Bayer has been making wildlife and nature films for over 30 years. Nova, Animal Planet, the Discovery channel, National Geographic--Bayer's work has been shown by them all. "Earthling" is a joint work with his son, Tristan, who looks to be following in his father's trade.

A few years ago, Bayer senior had a heart attack while out in the wilderness and nearly died. As a result, he decided to spend a year taking his family (wife Candice, daughter Maliaka, and son Tristan) with him on his filmmaking jaunts around the world, while he still had time to do so. This film means to show that year, and show the changes this produced in the attitudes and relationships within his family.

What those changes might be, I'm not entirely sure. As good as the Bayers are at making nature documentaries, they haven't mastered how to make a documentary about people. The staged scenes (like the reenactment of his heart attack) are so obviously staged it puts you off, and the unstaged cinema verite pieces never quite bring you enough information to know what any of them are thinking. You see the Bayers going to exotic places and filming them, but you don't get any privileged moments of their interaction. Indeed, we're shown very little of the family interacting at all. There may be a human drama here, but if there is, it's on the cutting room floor.

Instead, we get a voiceover narration from the son, Tristan, telling us what he's thinking. And, as always in movies, if you're being told something rather than shown it, it makes very little impression. For some reason, after having worked as his father's assistant for many years, working with him this particular year made Tristan realize that making nature documentaries was what he wants to devote his life to. I'm glad for him, but I didn't know why he came to that decision from the film.

Which is not to dismiss the very real pleasures it has to offer, which is the nature footage the family is gathering, and the view of how they go about their work. From treetop filming of orangutans in Micronesia to polar bears near Hudson Bay to Manta Rays in the Pacific to a massive migration of Monarch butterflies in Mexico, the film is filled with glorious images of nature, and the incredible amount of hard work it takes to capture those images. And they just keep coming, an abundance of riches.

Bayer brings a high degree of professional skill and effort to getting his images, and you can't but respect it the more you see of the troubles he has to take to do so. The images themselves are good enough to make you realize how much work is hidden in them. Like Fred Astaire, they make it look easy.

If you like nature documentaries, you'll probably like this one. However, its appeal doesn't reach beyond that.

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originally posted: 06/14/05 09:17:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/18/05 Sasha Ford a great modern day Swiss family adventure 4 stars
10/29/05 sdavis Beautiful.......simply beautiful. 5 stars
10/20/05 Freemond Dennis This film was absolutely amazing! I found it heartwarming and visionary. I plan to see it 5 stars
7/21/05 alw This is an incredible film with some of the most beautiful cinematography I've ever seen. 5 stars
5/31/05 Johanna Hewlett Brown Beautiful cinematography, great use of music, but sappy, silly script. 4 stars
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