Last evening, still without cable service with which to watch his beloved Nats try to put the kybosh on the hated Braves of Atlanta, ol’ Robbo found himself pulling a rayther unusual entry out of the ol’ Netflix queue, a 2001 movie titled “Winged Migration“.
The film is a documentary, shot over three years, tracking the travels of several kinds of birds (mostly ducks, geese, cranes and storks) from their winter grounds in various parts of the world to their summah residences nearer the Poles.
Frankly, it’s beautifully done – amazingly detailed shots of tight formations of birds winging their way over breath-taking landscapes that would make Stephen Maturin swoon- and the producers have every right to proudly note at the beginning that none of this was CGI special effects, but was instead genuine film footage. (In the “Making Of” track, we see how the producers trained the subject birds from chickhood to “imprint” on some Johnny in an ultralight, so that when they grew up they had no problem whatever in flying about with said ultralight in their midst, camera rolling. I seem to recall reading something about this at the time.)
And yet…..and yet….well, after an hour and a half of mostly just watching birds fly around, I found myself thinking “This is it?”
You see, the film is almost nothing but said footage, accompanied by Enya-like New Age yodeling (or so I would suppose based on what a friend has told me about Enya albums).
Yes, there are a few captions of the “Species Such-and-Such migrates so many miles from its winter grounds in Whereverland to the Arctic.” One of these referred to the “central american plains”, which caused ol’ Robbo some consternation, considering there are no plains in Central America. It was only after a minute that he realized the caption was referring to the central United States, specifically the Platte River, which he knew to be the winter grounds of the Sandhill Crane.
Yes, there is the occasional narration ( by a Frenchman in a voice that reminded me of that NSA agent in “True Lies” who helps Der Ahnold set up Helen for her fake op with his “Do eet ducimo…Do eet verrah slowly “), but the comments are few and far between and generally of a platitudinal variety, as in “Weeth de onset of weenter, de birds must haid south, their wan objecteeve, survivail.”
Early Sunday evenings in Robbo’s misspent yoot usually involved Marlin “I’ll stand downstream while Jim wrestles the tiger to the ground” Perkins and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom“. Since then, he always has had an interest in good quality nature documentaries and series, and has learned a great deal from them. So as an aficionado, I have to say that I found this film vastly lacking in substance. Where were the maps? Where was the narration about feeding and mating habits? About predators? About the damned geographical and meteorological logistics of those jaw-dropingly long flight patterns? (Aaaand, not to be pedantic, but the film was broad to the point of sloppiness about some of its basic premises. First, not all birds migrate. Second, even among species that do – for example, the Canadian Goose and American Bald Eagle cited in the movie – only a given percentage of the population migrates, while others stay year-round in certain locations.) It seems to me that this movie was long on the surface but very, very short on the depth and complexity of Nature’s wonder. And for that, despite the whiz-bang cinematography, it’s really not all that good.
Then again, the film was released in 2001 in the last days of the post-Cold War False Peace. Among the obligatory shots of the birds interacting with Man (usually to the former’s detriment), we get a clip of a group of geese winging their way along the East River in Manhattan, the Twin Towers looming up on their right. I’m really not trying to make a direct connection between a lack of quality theatrical presentation of ornithological information and the Collapse of the West, but…..you know?
Anyhoo, two glasses of port out of five.