Disneynature’s Chimpanzee has the makings of a great nature documentary. It takes us places other films haven’t and shows us sights we haven’t seen on any screen. Visually, it’s a triumph of intripid nature documentary filmmaking, with an extraordinary and heartwarming twist in the lives of a chimpanzee community. Yet like other recent nature flicks, including Arctic Tale and African Cats, it’s wrapped in increasingly tiresome, condescending kiddie-movie packaging. It’s like discovering a rare dish prepared by eminent chefs, drizzled with waxy treacle and stuffed in a Happy Meal box.
Nature docs thrive on firsts, though, and Oceans has some eye-poppers. The unprecedented spectacle of a blue whale feeding on krill, its ventral pouch inflated with water, is breathtaking (you never see blue whales in these things; humpbacks get all the glory). The colorful silken splendor of the blanket octopus and the ribbon eel were a surprise to me (nicely complemented by the Spanish dancer sea slug). And my new favorite freaky thing, supplanting the anatomical absurdity of the leafy seadragon, is the wack-eyed mantis shrimp, a testy little fellow who gets violently territorial with crabs loitering around his front door — as one learns to its grief. Get off my lawn, punk.
Welcome to Earth. Adapted by directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield from producer Fothergill’s groundbreaking 550-minute BBC miniseries “Planet Earth,” Earth offers an impressive selection of some of the most astounding images ever captured of the natural world. Many of the film’s sights had never been witnessed or photographed before Fothergill and the BBC Natural History Unit set out to create “the definitive look at the diversity of our planet,” as “Planet Earth” is not unreasonably billed.
Arctic Tale is co-presented by National Geographic Films, which released March of the Penguins, and Paramount Classics, which released An Inconvenient Truth, and when it grows up Arctic Tale would like to be both of those films.
To human observers, the ways in which animal behavior variously resembles or contrasts with human behavior is an inexhausible source of fascination. Catch animals behaving one way, and we can’t help marveling at how “almost human” they seem. Catch them behaving another way, and we’re struck by the unbridgeable gulf between the animal and human worlds.
What Winged Migration did for birds and Atlantis did for life under the sea, Microcosmos does for the insect world. It’s an astonishingly up-close and personal look at an infinitesimal world as alien as anything captured by the Hubble telescope or the Mars rovers — but also a world of strange fascination and unexpected beauty.
Director Jacques Perrin and his crew of pilots and cinematographers spent four years traversing the globe, capturing unprecedented images of migratory birds in flight and on land. Shooting from hot-air balloons and ultralight aircraft, the filmmakers insinuate the camera’s eye so intimately into the midst of airborne flights of birds that one can almost count the hairlike barbs on the feathers. Other times, one is staggered by the sheer number of birds captured in a single shot, sweeping across the sky like a curtain being drawn or covering an island to the horizon and the edges of the screen.
Highlights include daredevil cartwheeling baboons, the remarkable partnership of the badger and the honey-guide bird, and the astonishingly intricate lengths to which the Kalahari bushmen go to find water. There’s a sequence with the animal residents of the fertile Kavango flood plains intoxicated on fermented fruit, and footage of an ostrich mating dance that strikingly resembles Fantasia’s animated ostrich ballet.
Loosely structured into thematic "chapters" such as "light," "rhythm," and "grace," accompanied by an ecclectic Eric Serra score, Atlantis is a documentary Fantasia, a poetic marriage of image and music (though the score, apart from an aria from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, lacks the pedigree of Disney’s masterpiece). Marred only by a brief opening voiceover, which muses pretentiously about man’s evolutionary origins in the ocean, Besson’s otherwise wordless film lets the beauty of the undersea world speak for itself.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.