WINGED MIGRATION is filmmaker Jacques Perrin's stunning documentary study of bird migration. My wife and I left the special studio screening exclaiming, "How'd they do that!?"
The film begins along a minor waterway in Europe as a flock of geese begins its annual migration north to its summer breeding ground. It then cuts to other locales around the world as other species of large birds - usually cranes, swans, and storks, but also gannets, loons and others - begin their respective journeys. In all cases, the captioning identifies the species, their start points and destinations, and the miles between the two. Occasionally, Perrin makes the point more spectacularly by superimposing the flying flock on an image of the Earth taken from near-orbit. Voice overs are kept to a minimum.
Except for New York (with the WTC still standing), Paris, and a dismal industrial wasteland in eastern Europe, the flocks are shown flying through unpopulated landscapes both varied and magnificent: beaches, ice fields, Monument Valley, northern tundra, open oceans, snow-covered mountains, Asian farmlands, forest-enclosed lakes, deserts, and tropical rainforests. The sunset and weather (blizzards, fog, thunderstorms) provide dramatic backdrops. Then, at journey's end, the birds are shown in their summer habitats - usually steep, dramatic cliffs or rock-strewn shores with sea-ravaged margins.
But certainly the most eye-popping camera work is with the bird formations on the wing. The apparent vantage point of the lens is among the flock, with individual birds only an arm or hand-length away above, below, or to the side. I mean, you're RIGHT THERE! You'd think they'd have to be computer animated models. But a disclaimer at the film's beginning states that no special effects were used in the filming of the birds.
While Perrin emphasizes the round trip to, and the stay in, the breeding grounds, he doesn't gloss over the dangers. The viewer watches as individual birds fall victim to animal predators, human hunters and poachers, and industrial pollution. Some circumstances are heartrending, as when a disabled bird is surrounded and overcome by predatory crabs on an African beach.
Before concluding back at the same waterway and with the same flock of geese which began his documentary, the filmmaker makes a digression at first seemingly inconsistent with the title, i.e. with flightless Emperor penguins in the southern hemisphere. Of course, they use their wings to swim a couple hundred miles.
WINGED MIGRATION is a film to remind us that the real world can be just as spectacular and amazing as any one of the mega-budget, FX-laden, mindless thrillers dished out to the masses. It's wonderful.