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By Rick Kisonak | July 18, 2003

Someone should check: has one summer ever hosted so many bloated, big budget sequels? It seems unlikely. It also makes the arrival of a one-of-a-kind, visionary work of cinema cause for particular celebration.
Nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, “Winged Migration” is the latest from Jacques Perrin. As one of the creators of “Microcosmos” (1996), the filmmaker used high tech lenses to unveil the complex drama and beauty of the insect world. In his latest, he employs a variety of innovative techniques-including camera-equipped drone aircraft, balloons and motorized parachutes-to provide the viewer with a backstage pass to the mystery of aerial migration.
Assembled over a period of four years, the picture follows a variety of species as they make their annual journeys thousands of miles from home and back again. Some aspects of the process we’ve witnessed before, but watch here from a new and exhilaratingly intimate perspective. Others are appreciated perhaps for the first time, chief among these being the birds’ work ethic, the sheer body-wracking labor and drive demanded by long distance flight.
Viewed from the ground, those V-shaped formations appear to glide across the sky. Up close, however, each creature is revealed to be a huffing, puffing, arduously pumping marathoner. Methods of navigation and communication remain nature’s secret. The blood and sweat of the enterprise are brought into sharp focus again and again. In one sequence, a flock makes a much needed rest stop on an oceangoing battleship. In another, a solitary bird injures a wing, crash-lands on a desolate beach and makes an unexpected feast for a mob of ravenous crabs.
The score is appropriately ethereal. From the Paris skyline to the Great Wall of China, the film’s locales on every continent are rarely less than breathtaking. Calling the camerawork stunning, of course, is an understatement. Most impressive of all, though, are the birds and their ability to fit these mind boggling odysseys into the busy schedule of life.
“Winged Migration” is a remarkable accomplishment in many ways but most of all the way it reminds us what remarkable creatures these feathered friends truly are.

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