Review by Ed Nguyen
Lots of birds!
Director: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi(!)
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Commentary, "Making-of" documentary, music featurette, photo gallery, interviews, trailers
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: November 18, 2003
is ephemeral. It will only last a season."
am no ornithologist. To me, all
birds look alike, and one quack or honk sounds just like the next one.
Yet, there can be no denying the grace and beauty of the images and
sounds of birds captured in the remarkable film Le
Peuple Migrateur (Winged Migration,
2001). An assemblage of footage
accrued from over 15,000 hours of flight time, this film is a gorgeous
travelogue of multiple species of migrating birds, from swans to geese to even
bald eagles and much more.
actuality, Winged Migration is neither
pure documentary nor fictional film but rather a blend of both forms.
Like its forebears, the Disney True-Life nature documentaries of the
1950's, this film uses actual documentary footage mixed with staged scenes to
create the ambience of a natural story, one that has endured since the dawn of
human existence. Brief captions appear occasionally to describe the various
migration routes of these birds, and occasional musical interludes or narratives
appear, but otherwise, the film is entirely devoted to the breath-taking sights
these marvelous creatures in flight.
four years, five crews consisting of seventeen
pilots and fourteen cinematographers traversed seven continents to film these
birds. They visited dozens of
nations of the world, including Peru, India, Senegal, France, Vietnam, United
States, Iceland, and others. Using
everything from gliders, ultra-lite planes, helicopters, and balloons, these
filmmakers endured everything from the withering heat of Monument Valley and
African riverbanks, the wintry wastelands of the frozen tundras, and even the
dangers of erupting geysers or collapsing ice glaciers to capture these images
and tell a story of the passage of one year, with its bi-annual migrations, in
this cycle of avian life.
as "a symphony about nature," Winged
Migration contains many incredible images, with the camera virtually
adjacent to the birds as they fly. We'll
see skein of geese and volery of whooper swans in flight.
We'll witness the spectacular dives of dozens of northern gannets into
the waters of the northern Atlantic in search of fish.
There is something calming, relaxing, and occasionally comical about all
these singularly minded birds, even when they are not in flight.
Take, for instance, the amusing water dance of Clarke's grebe upon the
lakes of Oregon; these birds can literally scamper around on top of water, not
just swim! Furthermore, the bizarre
greater sage grouse of Idaho, with its prickly, truly other-worldly appearance,
is a bird that must be seen to be believed!
film reveals many extraordinary facts. The
arctic tern, for instance, routinely undertakes a tremendous 12,500-mile voyage
from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Equally as impressive is the albatross, which is as
long-lived as humans; with its enormous wingspan of twelve feet, this large bird
can spend years at sea without ever seeing land.
first third of Winged Migration
focuses on a convergence of birds towards the arctic regions of the world.
The middle portion of the film observes the subpolar regions of the world
after the arrivals of the birds. We'll
see Atlantic puffins, with their cute, colorful beaks, and the rockhopper
penguins, with their watery hopscotch style of swimming.
There are plenty of fuzzy baby hatchlings, too, which are often just too
cute for words. One of the funniest
shots follows a baby bird taking a Hail Mary leap off a sea cliff...only to
flutter like a collection of wayward feathers into the seawater hundreds of feet
below. If at first you don't
succeed, try try again!
this middle section observing the birds' mating rituals and the miracle of new
birth, the film concludes with a chronicle of the long voyage home.
There are several scenes concerning the risks of these flights.
More often than not, mankind represents the most dangerous predator. The film depicts an encounter of the migrating birds with
hunters, who are only seen in ominous silhouettes. Other birds become disoriented in the eerie post-modern
sprawl of decay and despair as they land for a restive in an industry
manufacturing park. The tone is
strangely frightening, particularly in light of the previous scenes of beautiful
natural landscapes. Not all
encounters with man are filled with danger.
There is a comical scene in which barnacle geese, spotting a French
warship at sea, use it like a rest station on a turnpike.
some of the film's scenes are choreographed or staged - for instance, the escape
of a truly clever Amazonian hyacinth macaw from its cage.
But everything is in service of creating the proper atmosphere for the
film, which manages to enthrall without being manipulative.
today's films, multimillion dollar special effects CGI extravaganzas make for
nice eye candy, but in the end, there is simply no substitute for the beauty and
awe of the natural world about us. Endless
shots and scenes in Winged Migration
put many a Hollywood blockbuster to shame, and this film helps to remind us of
all the creatures with whom we share this small world.
Sometimes, in our technological mindset and modernized comforts, we tend
to forget that there are many wonders awaiting us just outside out doorways, and
all that is needed is the will or desire to see them.
Winged Migration is a celebration of this life.
pretty much goes without saying that the cinematography in Winged Migration is absolutely mind-blowing.
Aside from the gorgeous landscapes, the film features numerous sequences
in which the filmmakers were able to approach almost within inches of the birds
in flight! The technique behind
this seemingly impossible feat is revealed in the bonus features, but it still
makes for very impressive cinema.
the transfer is crystal-clear and translates every last detail of these
magnificent creatures in motion. Winged
Migration is easily one of the most beautiful documentaries available on
the roars of avalanches to the collapse of ice floes to numerous avian cries all
around, Winged Migration places the
audience in a truly immersive aural environment. It is one of the most impressive "you-are-there"
experiences available in any documentary.
documentary features occasional narration in English. However, the narrator's thick French accent renders many of
his comments difficult to comprehend. Fortunately,
the film does not rely on narration (which is mostly inconsequential anyway) for
score, by Bruno Coulais, works quite well in the context of the film, although
the infrequent songs, though pretty, are somewhat intrusive and seem to disrupt
the rhythm of the natural sounds. The
songs are alternately in English and French.
off from a muddy field, they look like a pair of waddling albatrosses."
bonus features for Winged Migration
are presented mostly in French. English
subtitles are provided whenever necessary.
the features presented in English (well, quasi-English), is a fun and
informative commentary track from co-director Jacques Perrin.
His thick French accent makes for a truly surreal listening experience.
Perrin seems to have invented his own special rules for English syntax
and grammar, so while the main thrust of his remarks is generally somewhat
decipherable, the method of delivery is quite often hilariously bizarre, if
unintentionally so. There is no denying, however, Perrin's great enthusiasm for the
many of Perrin's main points are also re-iterated in the excellent
"Making-of" documentary (52 min.), one of the best I've seen in a
while. This documentary is also
presented in English and is utterly fascinating, almost as compelling as the
actual film itself. It follows
filming from the first day of shooting on the remote shores of Iceland, July
1998 until its concluding shots. More
significantly, the documentary concentrates on a detailed discussion of
imprinting, a technique that ultimately allowed the filmmakers to capture the
incredibly close-up images of the flight of the geese, ducks, swans, pelicans,
storks, and cranes seen in the film. On
a side note, the great family film Fly
Away Home also offers a good demonstration of how this technique of
documentary discusses how species were determined for imprinting, how migration
routes were chosen, and which locations of the most ideal bird gatherings around
the world were selected. It also
describes some of the inherent dangers encountered during filming, such as gales
and hurricanes but more ominously lost or sick birds and crashing planes (in
total, there were seven non-fatal crashes during filming).
(17 min) offers the filmmakers and the composer Bruno Coulais an opportunity to
talk about how the film's music and songs were woven into the fabric of the
film. Coulais describes how he
carefully matched the texture of his score to illustrate the essence of bird
cries, the beating of wings, or even the flight of the birds themselves. There are also frequent clips of the recording sessions.
Among the singers are former punk rocker Nick Cave, believe it or not!
All in all, this featurette is certainly worth a look, even if Coulais
occasionally gets carried away with his exaltations.
the Film is
a 10-minute interview segment in French with the filmmakers.
It reveals more information about the lengthy imprinting period from
pre-birth throughout the birds' early development, allowing them to become
accustomed to the presence of heavy machinery (such as aircrafts) and the
acceptance of a human caretaker as a surrogate parent.
All in all, there were seven different caretakers for the pelican,
Canadian geese, barnacle geese, graylag geese, Eurasian cranes, and snow geese
imprinted for this film.
min.) offers explanations of various scenes in the movie.
It is a great supplement to Jacques Perrin's commentary for the film.
In this segment, we will learn how cuckoo hatchlings are raised and the
different flying styles for the birds (the "motive" flyers prefer a
reverse-V formation for better air penetration, while the gliders use
atmospheric thermal pillars to fly effortlessly).
There is also a discussion about the effect of hunters and pollution upon
the birds' migrations. Some sad
scenes, such as one of a giant petrel killing a baby penguin or a tern with a
broken wing being chased by crabs, are acknowledged in this section, too.
photo gallery (13 min.) offers over three dozen still photos of the myriad birds
seen in the film. It is a mobile
gallery with camera shots that pan the photographs with music and a filmmaker
commentary in the background. Some
of these photographs are quite beautiful. Overall,
this is a wonderful presentation, making one wish that more photo galleries were
presented in this manner.
there are trailers for Winged Migration
and Cirque du Soleil Varekai.