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Winged Migration

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/02/03 15:11:32

"You Will Believe A Bird Can Fly"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

My God, I wish I could fly. Hasnít everyone shared that dream at one time or another? Whether it be their first glance of Superman or desire to travel wherever on a whim, the gift of flight would probably rank high on the survey board of potential genie wishes. The clouds donít feel quite the same in a plane and the wind may be between your hair in a convertible, but your arms and fingertips donít experience the same sensation. What it must be like to be a bird. Flying, exotic locales and travelling with friends. Also travelling thousands of miles on your wings, facing peril and flat-out surviving. Audiences get the best of both experiences in Winged Migration.

Documenting the paths of what has to be around twenty different species of birds (I actually lost count) filmmakers Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats and Jacques Perrin take us on the kind of amazing journeys usually only found on the screens of IMAX. The Discovery channel may drum up the facts, but a television canít provide the feeling anymore than a plane or a convertible can. The filmmakerís cameras get up close and personal in a way that forces them to announce early on that no special effects were used to record their flight.

Thatís a little misleading as occasional overhead views of the Earth reduce the creatures to CGI compositions, but the real footage is so magnificent that you will find yourself even wanting to believe those moments. The beauty of the travelogue from New York to the Amazon, the Grand Canyon to the South Pole, Paris to the Great Wall of China takes on an almost God-like splendor as we glide alongside the various flocks. They are both the transitions and the action scenes from one species to the next as a pindrop would even be drowned out by the wonder in your own mind.

With the sweet, however, does come the sour, from the slow realization of failure to immediate moments of tragedy. Broken wings, separation and industrial indifference to the environment all play factors in the year-round pilgrimage from 1-20,000 miles that birds embark on for food. Your feathers will certainly be ruffled when you hear the sounds of gunshots or await the fate of one creature when it falls victim to Darwinís evolution. If you didnít feel a strong hatred towards hunters or take a certain pleasure in eating crabs besides in the taste, then prepare to have your emotions enuniciated. The filmmakers do cut away from several of the tragic dispositions, choosing to give us a sense of what happens to some of the winged marvels, since it would be pretty diabolical to deliberately place them in harmís way as some shots suggests.

Sour is just a word though that canít stir empathy without the sweet of which there is plenty. The expedition of the flight scenes give way to more intimate moments like the walk-on-water dances or the mass-scale diving that would make Olympic committees blush. I watched not only with childlike excitement one bird struggle with a fish, but witness a room full of colleagues nearly burst into applause when it succeeded. Their personalities so distinct, their movements so enunciated that you may even find yourself adding your own soundtrack with future viewings.

From Ducks to Cranes to Pelicans to Penguins, itís only a matter of time before someone snatches up the idea for an animated feature of this magnitude. Within five years, mark my word. The Bald Eagle has maybe 90 seconds of screen time devoted to it and proves it may be the coolest bird that has ever existed. Thatís the kind of joy Iím talking about when I saw this film. Cool, breathless, imaginative flights of fancy taking place before my very eyes and without the need for special effects, humans or dialogue (save for a needless narration.) He does say that ďthe story of the migrating birds is the story of a promise to return.Ē As our eyes take it all in, we find thereís some hope in the world that a promise like that can be fulfilled.

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