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            Laramie Movie Scope:

The Winged Migration
(Le Peuple migrateur)

To trip the flight fantastic

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 14, 2003 -- “Winged Migration” is a superior wildlife film, featuring such breathtaking images of wild birds in flight that the audience is constantly wondering “how in the world did they get that shot?”

Filmed over a period of four years (the World Trade Centers in New York were still standing when some of the footage was shot), the film is a celebration of the vitality of life on earth. It follows migrating birds from birth to death, and from spring migration to fall migration, through 40 countries and all seven continents. There is no particular story, except for one duck caught in a fishing net. The duck is rescued by a young boy, who cuts away most of the net. Enough of the net remains tied to the duck's leg that it can be identified in the rest of the film. There are very few humans in the film and there is no attempt to anthropomorphise the animals. Some birds get killed by hunters, others die in polluted industrial sites, but there is no heavy-handed message. Some birds are fed by a kindly old woman after a long flight and they eat right out of her hand. It is all presented matter-of-factly. Narration, by Jacques Perrin (“Brotherhood of the Wolf”), who also co-wrote, co-produced and co-directs the film, is kept to a minimum. There is also sparing use of subtitles to convey additional information.

What the film does, in a spectacular way, is show us how birds migrate. Five teams, consisting of over 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers participated in this epic project. The film gives the viewer a truly bird's eye view of birds in flight. At times, team members had to push away birds with their hands when they flew too close to the camera in mid-flight. One remarkable sequence follows a bird flying low over a river. The bird darts down a narrow channel between two steep walls and somehow the camera keeps up with the bird. Perhaps the camera was mounted on a fast boat. If so, the boat had very little room to maneuver. Some footage in the film was shot by small, remote controlled planes which could actually follow or join migratory birds in formation. Model helicopters, gliders, ultralight, and other unusual aircraft were also used by cinematographers. In another shot, migratory birds are waiting out a fierce snow storm atop high mountains. I wondered how the cameraman got there, how he got out of there, and whether or not he got frostbite after getting those unbelievable pictures.

The film has the usual funny stuff of birds running across the water, sage grouses strutting and other odd courtship behavior. Then there's the cute chicks being raised by their parents, learning to fly, etc. This is fairly typical wildlife film content, but fun to watch nonetheless. The film has its share of cute bird antics, but it is much more than that. The incredible endurance of the birds in their long flights is highlighted by footage of birds landing on a ship at sea in order to rest. Another straggler with a broken wing is attacked and eaten by crabs on a beach. One bird is shown killing and eating the chick of another bird. The birds are shown flying thousands of miles (some birds travel over 12,000 miles in their twice-yearly migratory flights) over open sea. They are shown hunting for food to build up or replenish their reserves after such long flights. One memorable shot shows migratory birds zipping right through the heart of Paris.

There were a lot of kids in the audience when I saw this film, and they quietly watched. I did not hear any commotion caused by bored children not paying attention to the film. This film is fascinating in it's awe-inspiring depiction of birds in action, from birds diving from sky into ocean like sleek spears, to penguins awkwardly climbing a steep rock cliff. The persistence and vitality of life is celebrated in this film, along with the beauty of birds in flight. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games, posters and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)