Winged Migration 

(G) 4 stars

(G) 4 stars
Winged Migration is not a film about birds; rather, it is a film of birds. With only sparse narration by director Jacques Perrin, Winged Migration is not concerned with telling us what remarkable creatures birds are, but merely with showing us what they can do; that we will be fascinated is a foregone conclusion. Using a team of more than 450 people (presumably all as bird-obsessed as he), Perrin spent three years tracking migratory birds on all seven continents, using all manner of innovative techniques — gliders, remote-controlled cameras, balloons and even a bike-mounted camera — to capture images of startling intensity and intimacy. There are four basic migratory routes: North America to South America, Europe to Africa, Asia to India and Southeast Asia to the Pacific, and Perrin’s crews traverse them all, swooping and gliding over some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. The birds themselves are a kind of avian United Nations, representing every color, creed and manner of flight, from cranes so elegant they look as though they were designed by Chanel, to species like the puffin, so unwieldy it seems a wonder they can fly at all, and yet they all do, some spending the great majority of their lives in transit from one home to the other. From our magnificent vantage point right in the middle of many of the migrating flocks, it’s possible to forget for an hour and a half that we can’t actually fly ourselves, as we soar through Monument Valley, dive off an Icelandic cliff or flap leisurely over castles in Europe. Winged Migration isn’t all transcendental meditation, however — some of the most riveting scenes come when the brute force of Darwinism makes itself apparent as a bird with a broken wing, separated from its flock, is left behind and lustily attacked and devoured by a gang of crabs, or a bird of prey swoops down to feast on a chick, right in front of its parents. We’re tempted to feel pity, until we remember that this is the way it works in their world, which is perhaps not so different from ours. Despite the Herculean labor that must have been required to get much of the footage, there is very little evidence of humans in the film, and only a few other animals. The human hand appears mainly as an adversary, in a bird mired in the run-off from a derelict Eastern European factory, a boat loaded with caged tropical birds and animals making its way down the Amazon, and hunters who pluck birds from the sky. In those moments, Winged Migration is not just a documentary, but an apology — or an elegy — to the world of birds.

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