From the makers of Microcosmos, a look at the insect world around us, we get Winged Migration, a study of what takes place over the course of a year for different migratory birds from all the continents. Unlike most documentary nature films that cast the viewer as an observer, Winged Migration makes the audience a participant by drawing them in through both its story as well as its amazing visuals.
I was simply in awe of the camera placement both in the air and on the ground. In flight, the camera pans around and seamlessly becomes a part of the formations, providing a literal bird’s-eye view. You can see the their muscles working as they fly and soar across the sky, making it look so effortless that even we land-based creatures should be able to pull it off if we put our minds and bodies to it.
If you have no interest in ballooning or hang gliding, this film is as close as you’ll come to experiencing what flight must be like. I don’t want to give away their secrets but at the film’s website they discuss what equipment was used to create the breathtaking shots and sequences.
On the ground, different groups of birds go about their business not noticing or not caring that the camera is recording their actions. Sometimes the camera is amongst the birds, but they don’t seem to bother with it. The three years it took to make the film appears to have helped some birds get comfortable with this strange device in their midst.
Some reviewers have commented about the lack of a story, but they are missing it because they forget that we, as humans, are animals as well. Over a year’s time we see how the birds live and what struggles they face to survive; they are no different from our own struggles. We both deal with life and death, with searching for food and shelter, with having and raising children. Maybe the timeframes are different, but the events are not.
The seasons and locations dictate our actions in much the same way they affect the birds’ choices. Whether the traditions are religious or secular, there is a cycle of events that we follow, year after year, month after month, day after day. We even have our own large migrations, whether it’s returning home for the holidays or leaving our nest to and from work.
The story is there if your all-too-human ego will let you see it. It is accurate for us to misquote John Merrick from “The Elephant Man” by stating, “I am an animal! I am a human being!”
There’s a bit of narration that doesn’t add much to the film and sometimes the music choices were obvious, but those flaws are so minute compared to the strengths.
This is certainly not a film for everyone. Fans of films like Koyaanisqatsi or Baraka, where visuals alone tell the story, will enjoy this. Many others won’t get it and might find themselves bored. But if you can accept man’s place in the universe, this film has the ability to create perspective in a way reminiscent of events like volcanoes erupting or stars dying.
I found this movie humbling by being reminded that humans are no more special than any other life form. Stay for the credits to be amazed at all the countries that cooperated in the creation of this film. It’s inspiring to see what we can accomplish together as a species yet disappointing in what we still have yet to achieve.