- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

Watching “Finding Nemo” and “Winged Migration” back to back might prove gratifying because the contrast in settings and illustrative styles ought to be an eyeful.

“Nemo,” of course, has simulated a vast oceanic setting along the Great Barrier Reef through computer graphic animation. The French-made “Migration,” a wildlife documentary in the tradition of Disney’s “Water Birds” and the David Attenborough series “The Life of Birds,” relies on sweeping aerial vistas — evidently the result of inventive breakthroughs in remote or telescopic or glider-borne cameras — to suggest an intimacy with bird species in flight.

Not that this new pictorial survey of wild birds that make long journeys across the globe ignores the remarkable wading, diving and fishing habits of water birds.

There are fabulous images of a Clark’s grebe that appears to be walking on the water and a flock of Northern gannets in breathtaking descent from cliff-side perches in the foreground. One virtuoso fishing species demonstrates how to spear and swallow prey with a graceful economy of movement. Some stolen moments with storks on the hunt tend to suggest that they probably have a rich dinosaur heritage.

Jacques Perrin, the French actor who produced this film, evidently recruited hundreds and perhaps thousands of wildlife photographers around the world. He supplies a narration with a certain element of competitive suspense: He keeps a running, ascending tab on the species that log impressive air miles while migrating. The champ is the arctic tern, which evidently cannot help flying between polar regions, a distance of about 12,500 miles. I’m not sure it’s necessary to choose at this level of instinct and endurance.

I’m also not sure we’re looking at photorealistic birds in every single image, although the producers have disclaimed any resort to computer-generated enhancement. Maybe and maybe not. A goodly number of computer illustrators seem to be listed in the end credits. I’d swear we are looking at exceptionally skillful and attractive paintings of birds in flight from time to time. I wouldn’t mind if we were, either, because I think this format is expansive enough to justify a blend of illustrative tools and frameworks.

The dominant mood is appreciation, and I don’t see why the appreciation couldn’t include examples perfected by brush or computer keyboard.

There is a teasing motif that seems more dubious. The filmmakers suggest perilous circumstances and decline to resolve the suspense. For example, do the snowbirds that appear to be trapped in an avalanche escape? Does the harvester mow down the bird’s nest that appears to be in its path? Did the bird apparently stuck in the muck of an abandoned factory setting maneuver its way to safety? Did the filmmakers adhere to strict guidelines about scene-setting and editorial evasion? Mr. Perrin fails to explain how coldblooded his collection of bird lovers were expected to be.

One cannot even be certain — short of full disclosure in a DVD edition — that nature is taking its inevitably cruel course when we appear to watch a bird with an injured wing become a meal for ravenous crabs. It’s one of the sequences that may require some shielding and philosophical reassurance if you happen to be attending with very young spectators. For all one knows, the crew took pity on the struggling bird and found something else for the crabs to devour. It’s the least they owe it for a poignant interlude.

***

TITLE: “Winged Migration”

RATING: G (Occasional graphic violence in documentary depictions of wildlife)

CREDITS: Directed by Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats. Narration written by Stephane Durand and spoken by Mr. Perrin.

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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