Winged Migration

Movies do not get simpler than watching a bunch of birds fly. That is the premise for Winged Migration, and although the film is just a bunch of birds flying, it is also so much more. The visual elegance and simplicity of Winged Migration is misleading; this movie was a huge undertaking for its filmmakers. It took three years of production in order to produce the film, which was rewarded with a nomination for Best Documentary (it lost to Bowling for Columbine). The structure of the Winged Migration is simple. Some subtitles on the screen show what kind of bird is on screen, the source and destination of its migration, and how far it travels. There is some sparse narration by Jacques Perrin (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Crime Scenes).

In this respect, the film is lacking. The viewer will glean virtually no other information about any of the species on screen, taking away a tremendous learning opportunity. Instead, writer/director Perrin and co-writers Stephane Durand, Jean Dorst, Guy Jarry, and Francis Roux spit out the basic factoids before shutting up. They replace narration with New Age-y type music that is buoyant and respectful enough not to become annoying. However, the stunning footage more than makes up for any deficiencies. Winged Migration used five separate crews, filming simultaneously across the world to achieve its footage.

In order to get so close to the birds, the crews had to make sure the birds were not afraid of the cameras. This meant spending lots of time with the birds, sometimes from birth, and using a variety of cameras, from helicopters, gliders, and remote controlled planes. This allows for some amazing shots of birds as they fly under a bridge in Paris with the Eiffel tower in the background or through New York with a still-standing World Trade Center in the background. The cameras get amazingly close to the birds, and Winged Migration takes pains to establish that no visual effects were used in filming.

In the end, Winged Migration is about beauty. These small birds are strong enough to fly thousands of miles across a continent twice a year in order to mate. It looks like they are easily flapping their wings, until one realizes that they must do this for hours every day. Perrin and his crews are also able to capture many of their subjects at rest, so that one can appreciate the diversity across species and continents. It allows viewers to see the birds tending for their young, at play, and competing against each other for mates. Sure, they're anthropomorphizing these birds, but with some of their actions, it's an easy thing to do. Winged Migration knows where its strengths are. By showing a non-stop parade of awe-inspiring scenes, Perrin keeps the viewer's eyes riveted to the screen.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 27 minutes, Rated G.

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