Winged Migration

Winged Migration

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The result of four years' hard work by five separate crews travelling across seven continents, Winged Migration explores the experiences of dozens of different species of birds making the seasonal journeys essential to their survival.

The old myths about birds simply seeking somewhere warm to winter are scotched; instead, we see the riches of the polar environments, the ideal habitat for breeding whilst the sun shines, which must needs be forsaken before the long dark night that winter brings. We are also reminded of the harshness of summer in the deserts of Africa and the Americas.

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Winged Migration isn't just about birds - it also takes viewers on a journey through some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth, and observes some of the people who live there, most of them engaged in some sort of peasant labour. The urban world is glimpsed only fleetingly, demonstrating its lack of relevance to many of the world's inhabitants. In one striking scene, an old woman feeds by hand the cranes who visit her farm twice each year. The flight of the birds links diverse environments and reveals some of the subtle ways in which they interact.

Although a notice at the start of this film declares that it contains no special effects, a small print credit at the end gives thanks for assistance in creating them. Some of the shots do look staged, but this doesn't detract from the overall power of the piece. The editing work here is truly amazing, bringing together what feels like a coherent story from reels and reels of diverse footage.

To modern audiences, the notion of sitting still for an hour and a half to watch some birds fly about may not be very appealing, but Winged Migration is surprisingly engaging. It contains very little narration, which is good, as this occasionally strays toward the sentimental. Some of the music is also overly sentimental, a bit too prescriptive and intrusive, provoking laughter from an audience which had previously been absorbed in the birds' story; but there's also some impressive orchastral work, and drier contributions from Nick Cave. This film does have its nastier moments, which parents taking their children along should be prepared to deal with. Particularly sinister is a scene in which we see a bird with a broken wing being stalked by hungry crabs.

Occasionally, this film strays from its purported mandate to present vignettes about the lives of non-migratory birds. In the Amazon jungles, we are introduced to parrots which prove themselves smarter than monkeys, a reminder that bird abilities are many and various. We also see footage of chick-raising and of courtship displays, though here the film avoids repeating too much that is familiar. Many of the clips are humourous, some poignant, and some stunning simply due to the grace of their subjects.

If you are anything less than an expert, Winged Migration will teach you things about birds that you didn't know before. It is a little different from the usual cinema fare, but it's well worth a look.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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Documentary following birds as they make their epic migratory journeys.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: Jacques Perrin, Michel Debats, Jacques Cluzaud

Writer: Jacques Perrin, St├ęphane Durand, Valentine Perrin, Francis Roux

Starring: voice of Jacques Perrin

Year: 2001

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Switzerland

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