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DVD REVIEW

Winged Migration - Special Edition  (2001)

 

Director: Jacques Perrin

Rating: G

Distributor: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

Release Date: November 18, 2003
Review posted: November 18, 2003

Spoilers: Very Minor

 

Reviewed by Dennis Landmann

 

Synopsis

 

Witness as five film crews follow a rich variety of bird migrations through 40 countries and each of the seven continents. With teams totaling more than 500 people, 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers used planes, gliders, helicopters and balloons to fly alongside, above, below and in front of their subjects.

 

Critique

 

You only need to watch the first few minutes of Winged Migration to realize what a huge undertaking this project must have been. In fact, the team of 450 people spent some three to four years of their lives training and documenting the migration of the various birds. Sometimes a group of people would spend a year with the birds to train them, care for them and capture them on film. Usually only about a minute of a year's work would end up in the final film as revealed in the film's making-of documentary (more on that one in the special features section). Based on the DVD's 24 scene selections I'm assuming the documentary covers at least that same number of individual bird species. That's pretty remarkable.

 

Winged Migration is a stunning work of art and pictures. Some of the shots are achieved by following the birds on a speedboat or specially designed glider. Other shots are lined up on a dolly track or crane. The film stays visually fresh by incorporating all kinds of angles, altitudes and camera techniques. It's also quite remarkable how close the camera gets to these birds, sometimes within a few feet. There's a shot of a little baby bird in a field with the camera rising up to reveal a tractor trailer mowing down the tall plants. However, the scene cuts at that point and doesn't reveal the outcome. Winged Migration also begins and ends in the same location, more or less, which indicates a certain narrative structure. A disclaimer shows up in the beginning stating, "No special effects were used in the filming of the birds." Well, there are a few shots manipulated by special effects, but not those of actual birds.

 

Despite its visual glory, director Jacques Perrin doesn't do the birds the justice they deserve. Some parts of the film are narrated, but each time there are only one or two sentences describing a particular migration or species. From the beginning the narrator makes it clear that these birds migrate to survive. Finding food is essential to their survival. Subtitles accompany the narration to explain what species is featured on screen as well was how far and where they fly to. I would have liked to know more about them, such as what they are, and not only where they migrate to. However, the intent of this documentary is not to educate viewers about all the birds in great detail. Instead, Perrin offers general information about them to give viewers an idea. The intent of this documentary is to document the birds' migration in ways never before captured on film. In that respect, Perrin and his team of roughly 500 people succeed admirably.

 

In addition to great visuals, Winged Migration uses very nice music to accompany the natural sounds of the birds. The music by Bruno Coulais makes the film a bit more effective that way, but sometimes it also imposes on the footage. One aspect of the documentary bothered me a little bit, the pace. It didn't lose my interest, but some parts dragged on a bit. But it's forgivable. However, one thing that is not so forgiveable is the film's loss to Bowling for Columbine as best documentary feature at the 2002 Academy Awards. I think most of the voters went with the more popular film. Winged Migration is easily the better and more satisfying documentary. Overall, this an incredible documentary.

 

The Video

 

Columbia Tristar presents Winged Migration in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are naturally vibrant, clear and well-saturated. Color detail is quite sharp. Black levels are deep and solid. The image is also sharp and very clear. I didn't notice any compression artifacts, but little evidence of edge enhancement shows up in a few scenes. Some images look a bit rougher due to the lack of natural light. All in all this is a very nice transfer despite some EE.

 

The Audio

 

Columbia Tristar presents Winged Migration in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The surround sound here is pretty good. You can clearly hear the birds and other sounds coming from the rear speakers. The presentation makes watching the film a natural and enveloping experience. The music soundtrack is nicely reproduced across the two front channels, not to mention it's composed just great. This is a pretty good presentation.

 

The Extras

 

The first item is a commentary by director Jacques Perrin. Despite a slow start, the track features some good background information about the birds and locations. Perrin shares his thoughts in a soft-spoken way, talking about the film's challenges and his feelings for it. If you liked Winged Migration you'll find this track valuable.

 

The next item is the highlight of the special features. The Making of Winged Migration (52:13) provides an interesting, thoughtful and in-depth view at the making of the documentary. The amount of detail and information here is quite rewarding, especially the part where we learn how these people got some of the amazing shots. We also learn the birds were raised and trained exclusively for this project. The making-of is edited splendidly, incorporating footage and information from around the globe. Behind-the-scenes footage reveals the production's challenges in both technical and natural aspects. A total of seven gliders crashed during the entire filming of the project. Sometimes bad weather conditions delayed filming and forced teams to improvise certain shots. The making-of also mentions the hardship of acquiring a permit to fly over the New York skyline. The narration for this piece is helpful and provides the most information. Overall, this is a very informative and interesting behind-the-scenes look at the making of Winged Migration.

 

The 17-minute Creating the Music featurette is a very nice companion to the making-of documentary. There are also some 24 minutes worth of filmmaker interviews, which provide additional views and anecdotes about the main feature. A photo gallery with commentary by Jacques Perrin is also a nice addition. Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer and a bonus trailer for Cirque De Soleil: Varekai.

 

You can select to view the film with optional English, Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi subtitles. The 89-minute feature is organized into twenty-four chapters.

 

Overall

 

Wow, what amazing visuals there are in Jacques Perrin's Winged Migration. It's incredible how close the cameras got to their subjects. The music accompanies the pictures very nicely. Video/audio quality is very good. A fantastic making-of documentary is the highlight of the special features. This DVD comes highly recommended.

 

RATINGS SUMMARY

 

THE MOVIE 9
THE VIDEO 8

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

7

OVERALL (not an average)

8

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 


 

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