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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Winged Migration


Presenter: Jacques Perrin
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: U
Available 26 October 2009

Witness as five film crews follow a rich variety of bird 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 beauty. Open your eyes to the wonders of the natural world as you fly along with the world's most gorgeous birds through areas...

Winged Migration (2001 - 1 hr, 29 min, 17 sec) is an odd film, directed by Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats and Jacques Perrin. Not quite a documentary and yet not quite a story. The wildlife film shows various species of bird as they make their migration to their breeding grounds and back. The birds have to contend with the weather and, more importantly, man - from his destruction of their habitats to their slaying by sportsmen.

I say that it’s not quite a documentary as the birds had to be trained to tolerate the various devices which the film makers used to capture them in flight. The birds were also imprinted by the film makers which allowed them to have the birds naturally follow them. The film is shot across several continents, so the viewer gets some stunning views of the Grand Canyon, the Arctic and Antarctic wastelands and the Great Wall of China. Due to changing weather conditions and the equipment used the quality of the shots are variable. But all are artistically shot for maximum impact. It’s strange to see the birds in flight, apparently right next to the camera; from this angle it is even more amazing that they can take flight at all. In the air they exhibit grace, but on the ground, especially though their mating rituals, they are a great deal less elegant.

Although visually impressive, the film does little in providing any scientific information about the migratory habits of the birds and the narration and subtitles are minimalistic. Also, if the director’s commentary is to be believed, these are mostly trained birds, so it is difficult to say how realistic their behaviour is. The film proudly boasts that it used no special effects, even though there are obvious CGI shots, but the makers do admit to recreating scenes for dramatic purposes. So, the scene of the small birds wallowing and getting caught in industrial waste were recreated. Presumably, the birds were rescued when the shot was finished, but it still left me with a certain sense of unease about the morality of the film. And what of the ones which are shot by hunters, did the film makers lure the birds to this place just to be killed.

Like Koyaanisqatsi (1982) the film opens with a pastoral idyll and only slowly is man introduced, though unlike the former film the destructive nature of mans relationship with the planet is dealt with in a heavy handed and unconvincing manner, especially once you know that it was staged.

The film's audio track is presented in English, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD with subtitles for seven European languages and Hindi. The film has some nice extras, though they are all in low def, kicking off with The Making of Winged Migration (52 min, 16 sec) which shows how the film makers went about imprinting the birds and some of the techniques used to capture the amazing footage. Although most of the spoken words are in French there is an English narrator.

Creating the Music (17 min, 24 sec) does what it pretty much says on the tin with Bruno Coulais discussing the evocative use of Bulgarian vocal groups to create the film's ambience. There is a contribution from Nick Cave, though my favourite track is the opening number by Robert Wyatt.

There are two filmmaker interviews, the first About the Film (9 min, 44 sec) looks at the rational for making it and Further Insights (14 min, 05 sec) gives a little more depth about some of the species shown. Last up is a Photo Gallery (13 min, 18 sec) with a commentary track, which naturally features shots of birds as well as some shots of the crews. There is BD live on the disc, but at this time there does not appear to be any content.

In truth the film is an impressive piece of film making, shot over four years, the mammoth undertaking has produced a poetic film which gives us a look into the world of birds.


Charles Packer

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