Birds are strange. Within their particular species, they tend to all look the same and when they’re flying in groups it’s as though they’ve formed a gestalt controlled by some invisible group over-mind, or perhaps some sort of telepathy. Not that they don’t have individual personalities or at least traits determined by size and/ or levels of aggressiveness, but that seems more apparent when they’re not flying.
In Winged Migration, which will no doubt stand for a long time as the ne plus ultra of avian nature films, there’s a comical scene of an Idaho grouse, puffed with self-importance, strutting among potential challengers with a little Mini-Me flunky by his side. That, at least, is what it looks like, possibly just a projection encouraged by the film’s minimal narration. It could just be a female taking her offspring for a stroll.
With only a little trickery — a few apparently staged shots, some process work, some Foley effects to emphasize the chuffing sound of the bird’s wings as they make their thousand-mile treks — Winged Migration presents a mostly up-close look at, well, winged migration. Full of how-did-they-get-that shots (and agreeably padded with anecdotal material showing birds in danger, fatally threatened by avalanches, oil spills and, in one startling scene, humans with guns, as well as more peaceful interactions), the film’s achievement is to make you see something familiar in a different way.
Because of the sparse narration, it’s less an instructive film than a demonstrative one and one that captures nature’s enduring grace, mercilessness and mysterious persistence.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].