Watching "Winged Migration" I couldn't help thinking of legendary film director Russ Meyer. (Can we help the way our minds work?) (Should we?)
Meyer, for the more circumspect among you, would find a lovely young woman with immense (immense!) breasts and construct a movie around her.
Plot? Plot?? We don't need no stinking plot!
Somewhat less than mainstream, it is conceivable that films such as "Eve and the Handyman" (1961), "Common Law Cabin" (1967), and "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens" (1979) escaped your attention. (They were snubbed at the Academy Awards as well.)
Nevertheless, they have something in common with the current French film "Winged Migration" directed by Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats. (Yes, the birds are naked but no, there's a complete absence of ooh-la-la!)
Rather, the directors figured out a way to fly alongside and amongst a variety of migrating birds and then constructed a nature documentary around this thinnest of hooks.
Sure, it's astonishing for the first 10 or 15 minutes but once you've become accustomed to the gimmick you realize that the majority of birds in flight all look the same. (Is this some form of anti-avian racism?)
Perhaps aware of this but determined to make the film anyway, the writers try to juice things up by enumerating the number of miles each of the varieties migrates. The voice-over portion of this elucidation is thus artificially invigorated with breathless dialogue suggesting awe.
Trouble is, they are imposing human values upon ordinary behavior. For example, snow geese fly as far as they do because they're snow geese; that's what snow geese do. It's nothing special for them, only for a different species who judges all behavior in comparison with itself.
No doubt certain groups would define those that traverse such distances as deviants for if we don't do it such behavior is by definition abnormal.
To the contrary, it is no more or less astonishing than ants lifting objects many times their body weight, grasshoppers jumping many times their height, or bacteria living in incredibly hot, incredibly cold, or incredibly highly pressurized environments. It's what such things do.
In addition, the film is deliberately manipulative. We witness birds killing birds, humans killing birds, and crabs killing a bird. Clearly, we are supposed to feel badly for the birds.
However, though we also watch birds eating fish, things that squiggle around in mud, and insects, the demise of these various prey is somehow irrelevant. No doubt if Jacques Cousteau made the film things would be different.
Strangely, little time is spent in lingering contemplation of the transcendent beauty of the many birds within the film's purview. We notice the incredible diversity of colors and structures but only tangentially.
Moreover, though this sounds (or may in fact be) incredibly jaded, television (especially HDTV) provides greater intimacy, considerably more vivid cinematography, and infinitely more detailed information than the French film.
There are occasions, however, when, in the course of their globetrotting, the filmmakers captured some incredible footage.
There are a few moments depicting what seem tens of thousands of birds in an undulating swarm as imposing as the blackest, most majestic of thunder clouds. Unfortunately, neither the type of bird nor the impact of so many on the environment are addressed.
Surely whatever there is to eat won't be there tomorrow. If we care about the impact of man on birds, should we not at least address the impact of birds on man (and fish, and squiggly mud-dwelling things)?
By the same token, there's some very interesting footage wherein birds alight upon one another, yet no explanation is forthcoming. (No, it's not ooh-la-la! Get your mind out of the gutter or go rent a Russ Meyer flick Have I mentioned "Mondo Topless" (1966)?)
Further, there is a fleeting image of a couple of ducks or geese in flight with what appear to be feathers perforated by buckshot. In all my born days I've never seen anything like that before!
The film makers were also lucky enough to be on hand to capture some glacial calving which, while tremendously cool, has little or nothing to do with birds.
Sure, the winged creatures are startled but aside from a similarly abrupt response from the Monty Python parrot, it's hardly noteworthy. Essentially the footage is just filler. The same may be said of an avalanche.
Honestly, if these guys figured out a way to pay for an extensive and extended trip around the globe, who can gainsay them? But as to whether the film as a whole is worth seeking out, I'd say it's nothing to ruffle your feathers about.
Celluloid memories: Jacques Cousteau made a pretty good nature flick himself back in '64. Find a copy of the Oscar-winning "World Without Sun" and then get a scuba license and then? When you're finished your immersion in the deep blue, check out another Oscar winner, "The Hellstrom Chronicle" (1971). This one's about insects (who may be out to get us) and it too features gasp-inducing photography. Finally, for a change of pace, check out "The Naked Jungle" (1954). No, not ooh-la-la! naked see above for that. It's Charlton Heston versus an infinite number of extremely aggressive army ants in the South American jungle. (What good are all your guns now Chuck?)