A flock of geese is flying over harsh, snowy mountains in central Asia. Watch the peaks gracefully float by, sharp edges and bright snow-covered surfaces. The geese land on the side of a mountain to rest, enveloped in shrieking winds and flying snow. They rest their heads on their backs, tucked into their feathers, to keep warm. There's a low rumble in the background, as first one, then another head pops up. The rumble grows, and, alarmed, all their heads pop up and look in unison. They take off, squawking... and the side of the mountain falls, a huge rumbling avalanche cresting on the smaller peaks.
Winged Migration is a two hour movie with no plot and few words. Just birds flying, eating, swimming, raising chicks, and doing it all over again. There's a narrator with a thick French accent who pops in occasionally, and when a new species of bird is shown for the first time, its name and where it migrates to and from appears in a subtitle - though not for all the birds. Most of them time, you just watch the birds doing their bird things.
I'm hooked. I've gone to see it in theaters four times, and I'm planning to go for a fifth time tomorrow. The only other movies in the past decade that I've gone twice to see in a theater, as far as I can remember, were the two LotR movies - twice each. I can't remember the last time I went to see the same movie three times.
It's beautiful. They got the cameras right up among the flocks of birds as they migrated - according to the "making of" commentary I saw, the birds just got used to the cameras, accepted them in their midst, and didn't seem bothered. Expansive landscapes, mountains, swamps, rivers, deserts, clouds... this really calls for a big screen.
The music is brilliant. The composer wrote an original score for this movie that includes orchestral works, vocals (and a few songs with words), and sounds from nature, especially wings beating, used as part of the instrumentation. I got addicted to listening to it and bought the soundtrack, which has been in my car CD changer ever since I bought it a month or two ago.
But more than that, it portrays a world and puts you in it. You get into a bird frame of reference. Instead of seeing landscapes as fixed, as settings where things take place, and birds as creatures that pass through... you start seeing landscapes and places as ephemeral, things that you pass by. Climates and landforms all last for a short time, to be replaced by something else. And human things are sometimes part of it all, sometimes aberration, and sometimes a blend of both. When a flock of red breasted geese flying over eastern Europe decide to land and rest at an industrial site full of machines and vehicles and smoke, it just feels wrong
. Creepy. They don't belong. It makes you tense. But the flock of storks that just barely miss being fed by a peasant on their fall migration, but return to the same field in the spring - the tentative link between the peasant and the birds feels like ambassadors from alien cultures meeting briefly. There are stories in there, and also comical moments, like the birds who seem to dance to classical music, or the Clark's Grebes in Oregon running across the water and eyeing each other. There are breathtaking scenes of dramatic dives, of huge flocks pulsating in the sun...
I could watch this over and over.
Anyway interested in joining me and estheruth
for a showing tomorrow sometime? [UPDATE] I'm eyeing the 7:15pm show at the Somerville Theatre, or the 7:45pm show at the Capitol (in Arlington). There's also a 7pm show at the Embassy (in Waltham), and a 9:35pm or a 9:45pm at the Capitol if people want to go late. Email me if you want to come, and which of these showings you'd want to go to.