Directed by Jacques Perrin. (2001, G, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 4, 2003
Winged Migration, a French documentary about the flight of birds, is as magnificent as it is perplexing. Produced and directed by Jacques Perrin, the same producer behind the much-lauded insect documentary Microcosmos, Winged Migration is a real knockout to watch. Longtime bird watchers will be positively ecstatic over the images here, and even viewers not normally subject to flights of aviary rapture will find themselves utterly amazed by the up-close-and-personal perspective offered by this film. Perrin and his crew spent four years filming and assembling the footage, and the end result is nothing short of extraordinary. Countless species of birds are filmed from vantage points that appear to be mere inches away. Whether caught in the process of flight or feeding their young, the bird's-eye viewpoints are stunning, as they provide a constant reminder that we are witnessing events that cannot be easily observed with the naked human eye. The technical achievements of Perrin and his crew are truly wondrous and revelatory. In this sense, the movie indeed soars. In more earthbound terms, however, Winged Migration is weighted down by its lack of focus and information. One could learn more about birds by watching any number of nature documentaries on TV. "Birds must migrate to survive," intones Perrin during one of his occasional voice-overs during the film. Interesting concept, but Perrin’s narration never follows up with further explanations, reasoning, or insight into the migration patterns. Dozens of different species are introduced in the film, each accompanied by identical captions that tell us, "The blue-tipped so-and-so migrates 2,000 miles every year between Europe and North Africa." That’s it, as far as hard facts in Winged Migration. If you want to know why the birds migrate or how they make it over the bodies of water or why they go south instead of north, you’re in need of a separate birding guide or different documentary. Even the meager information Winged Migration does provide is poorly organized and repetitive. At one point the film appears to build to a climax as some hunters’ buckshot fells a few birds in flight and a subsequent scene shows the dangers pollution hold for migrating birdlife. But then the documentary switches back to its species roundup and testimony to the wonders of flight. As moving wallpaper, Winged Migration is the cat’s meow: One almost wishes the wondrous images had been filmed in the even bigger IMAX format. But as an informative documentary, Winged Migration’s birdbrain comes to the fore.