Winged Migration 
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Rolling Stone raved that Winged Migration, the critically acclaimed, awe-inspiring documentary, is A movie miracle! It soars! You feel privileged! Witness as five film crews follow a rich variety ofbird migrations through 40 countries and each of the seven continents. With teams totalling more than 450 people, 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers used planes, gliders, helicopters and balloons to fly alongside, above, below and in front of their subjects. The result is a film of staggering beautythat Entertainment Weekly hailed as Mesmerizing! and the Los Angeles Times applauded as Breathtaking! As lofty as it is exhilarating! Open your eyes to the wonders of the natural world as you flyalong with the world's most gorgeous birds through areas.
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The ‘Making of’ documentary runs for a further 52 minutes and is a gripping account of how the imaging was achieved. This was such a vast undertaking that it almost beggars belief. A few facts; the film took four years to film in locations around the world. Between 400 and 500 people were involved which included all the usual personnel plus 12 pilots flying numerous specially designed craft. The teams also included a considerable array of bird specialists, not least of which were those involved with imprinting themselves upon flocks of birds so they could be filmed in natural flight but with a close bond established with their surrogate parents. Imprinting took place from before hatching and continued intensively thereafter.
There were 300 trips to all the continents and 240 hours were filmed to deliver this 89 minute edited result. It was calculated that for each minute of final film time two months were spent ‘in the field.’ The imprinting was so successful that 7 caretakers were retained for years after 2002 in a special reserve in Normandy for returning birds and for controlled educational visits. There is much more but viewers will need to watch to find out!
During the film the larger birds, mostly geese, were filmed in flight and very revealingly. The geese shown are Greylag, Barnacle, Bar-Headed, Canada Red-Breasted and Snow geese. Other large birds include various cranes – Eurasian, Red-crowned and Sandhill as well as Whooper Swans, African White pelicans, Northern Gannets, Giant Petrels, Bald Eagle, various penguins and Albatross. Viewers will also spot migratory guillemots, Puffins and Arctic Terns.
The beauty of the subjects is never in doubt, nor are the attractions of the locations many of which make for stunning photography. However the film does not dodge the issue of industrial pollution in the forms of oil slicks and chemical run-off with fatal results. Road fatalities are implied and there is no escaping the hunters who shoot huge numbers of returning birds. These are birds we have seen fly thousands of miles in demanding conditions only to be killed for fun. The point is made that modern weapons have been exchanged for bow and arrows to devastating effect.
One area of migration not touched upon, other than the single example of the cuckoo, is that of the countless millions of songbirds which also travel great distances and share the same challenges and dangers. The technologies required to follow those in the same way have yet to be developed, if ever. The other 'extras' are also well-worth investigating featuring a Director's Commentary, In-depth filmmakers interviews, a music creation feature and a stills gallery with appropriate soundtrack provided by a photographer who gives detail and background to each shot.
The on-screen commentary is kept to a minimum but, by following the optional sub-titles, it becomes clear that more information is available than that heard on the soundtrack. In particular all the birds are clearly identified by name with distances travelled etc. Watching the soundtrack while reading the sub-titles is definitely a case of more is indeed more!
Despite dealing with the dangers of migration, this is essentially an up-beat production providing a unique insight into winged migration. This is a work of considerable dedication by an enormous team of specialists spanning four years. An extraordinary effort.
Just on minor niggle that is really nothing to do with the DVD itself, the original French name for the DVD was Le Peuple Migrateur or the migratory people. So much more poetic than Winged Migration but that does not detract from the wonderful photography.
The film is a visual feast and you get to experience the bird's successful migrations and their unfortunate unsuccessful ones - being shot down, hunted by birds of prey, or getting injured. It also puts into perspective our own lives, as we busily migrate back and forth to work everyday, mostly oblivious to our surroundings, while above us and all around us life is thriving and surviving. These magnificent animals soar over our cities, as the film shows beautifully, and we are only little spots to them as they travel thousands of miles with only the flap of their wings. Humankind was once so impressed with these birds, and envious, that we wanted to be like them, so we invented planes. But we still could never match their elegance and magnificence.
The film however does get boring at times, which is usually the case with films that are majority visual and lack narration, taking away depth and educational aspects. The film is less a documentary and more an art film. But it is definitely worth a watch and will give you a different perspective on birds and yourself forever.
On Blu-Ray, this film is stunning to watch, as one spectacular scene follows another for 90 minutes. I wasn't even briefly bored. The low key narration is just right, as are the occasional captions.
Like most documentaries, this film makes use of actors to show events that actually happened. In this case, the actors are hand-reared birds which have been specially trained to fly alongside microlites and paragliders. The birds were shipped, with the filming equipment, to various photogenic locations along typical migration paths. Although this falsifies the claim that "no special effects were used", I think the visual results justify the method - and this is pretty close to what a migrating goose or swan would actually see.
Besides the acted shots, about a quarter of the film is of genuinely wild birds, also very well filmed.
I watched my Blu-Ray copy of the film last weekend and what a difference! It's wonderful now and worth every penny. The birds are actors (mostly), recruited for the task and trained but that's not really a problem. Don't think of this as a wildlife documentary, think of it as a fictional film that mirrors reality. Then it works just fine.
(Anyway, many scenes in Attenborough's documentaries are filmed indoors, particularly the insect and small animal work. It's a necessity to get the shots.)