Winged Migration: Dull, but in a good way. I can't imagine how a better documentary about bird migrations could be made, but it is still, obviously, a film about bird migrations.

Ami compared watching Winged Migration to eating your cinematic vegetables, it's not really exciting, but it's good for you and you really should do it sometimes. It is quite soothing to see the gorgeous environments and clever cinematography, but the film's formula is pretty soporific. Meet new kind of birds, watch them hang around for awhile and do some funny stuff, watch birds fly over panoramic landscapes, learn how far they fly, repeat. I was fascinated, but I heard a few snores coming from fellow theater-goers, and I can't blame them. I was kind of dozy by the end of the film myself, but more like the kind of dozy you get from someone rubbing your head than from being bored.

There are a number of little vignettes throughout the film which tell short stories. We see baby birds learning to fly, a parrot escaping a poacher's cage, a goose tragically trapped in a coop, honking desperately as his fellow geese migrate overhead, which all serve to anthropomorphize the avian stars. I understood the moral of all these little tales to be that human beings are dicks. Still, you get to see birds do some pretty far-out shit, such as dozens of them diving into the ocean like a volley of arrows, synchronized stork ballet, or penguins climbing cliff faces.

However, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call "bullshit" on their disclaimer that "no special effects were used in the filming of the birds". I think the obvious staging of the aforementioned vignettes and others make it obvious that a lot of these shots were done with trained birds (bird trainers and breeders were also credited at the end). Also, I find the likelihood that the filmmakers just happened to be around when groups of birds are upset by things such as an untimely avalanche, horse stampede, or collapsing iceberg very slim. Plus, we see some very, very obviously computer generated "sattelite" shots of the earth depicting various bird migration patterns as seen from space, and the camera descends below the cloud layer, over which flying birds are green-screened. If they don't consider that a "special effect", it makes you wonder why they drew the line. Additionally, I'm pretty sure that the shot of a white heron being sucked into a jet engine was CGI as well. I mean, how could they have gotten close enough to have the camera rotate around the engine in slow motion? I think they would have better off just leaving the special effects disclaimer out of the film.

The soundtrack was pretty straightforward mellow new-agey stuff, also the presence of a Nick Cave song over the end credits was a bit of a surprise. Ami was understanably experiencing cognitive dissonance over his presence on the soundtrack of a film about bird migrations, and claimed that it was further evidence of his descent into lite rock.

In the end, I was really impressed by the visuals and camera work, and even more impressed by the remarkable distance that birds travel every year, and the hardhips they endure on the way. I couldn't tell you any of the distances that the various species do travel, but I now appreciate that they fly really, really far.

Oh, and I was just kidding about the jet engine.


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