Sunday, March 06, 2005

Life in its myriad forms: Aliens of the Deep, Galapagos, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

More catching up, while also throwing I saw yesterday in because it sort of fits the theme.

Anyway, let it be known: I love IMAX. I really should go to the Aquarium and, especially, Museum of Science more often. I find it really distressing that more filmmakers are moving toward digital video and none have had the nerve to say "let's shoot a feature in IMAX". Digital video is getting better all the time, but there are still limitations to it. It'll be a while before it can capture a picture as clear and beautiful as large-format film. I get that filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez just want an easy-to-use tool that allows them to capture and manipulate what they see, and not have to be chemists, and I do approve of that mindset. But, still, it's not there yet.

I also thoroughly approve of James Cameron continuing to shoot underwater documentaries. One of my fellow critics at HBS led off with snarky comments about how Cameron is ducking the challenge of another feature, and my first (uncharitable) thought was "well, you can just go die". I'd much rather see Cameron create works like this that excite him than a feature that he doesn't feel as invested in.

(And, yeah, Cameron used digital video to shoot Aliens of the Deep. Now, while I bet that if there's any director who COULD figure out how to practically bring a ton of camera equipment and film to the bottom of the ocean, it's James Cameron, but this is a fair trade-off).

So, without further ado, the reviews (Galapagos isn't in HBS's database, and I tied it to the Aliens of the Deep review, so I'll just post the whole thing here):

Aliens of the Deep

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2005 at the New England Aquarium Simons IMAX Theater (first-run)

It's funny; as much as I enjoy James Cameron as a feature filmmaker, I like him even more as a deep-water documentarian. Working in the documentary form frees him from the need to create character conflict and threats and villains. In Cameron's documentaries, the world - and the unknown - isn't something to be afraid of, but to be amazed by.

That kind of amazement is a hugely necessary thing. Think about it - when was the last time you saw a science fiction (or plain science) movie or television show that hit you wit, to use a phrase that is still accurate despite its frequent use, a sense of wonder? That said the universe beyond what we can see is full of strangeness, but made that strangeness something to be cherished? That is what James Cameron does in Aliens of the Deep.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2005 at the New England Aquarium Simons IMAX Theater (double feature)

The Galapagos Islands are famous for being where Charles Darwin made the observations that led to the theory of evolution via natural selection. They are a stunning landscape, for the most part untouched by the hands of man, and there are still much to be learned by observing the local flora and fauna.

That is the goal of Carole Baldwin, a marine biologist with the Smithsonian, whom we follow as she explores the island, observing a variety of animals in their habitats and taking samples. She also climbs in a submersible to take samples from the waters around the islands.

As is to be expected, the three-dimensional photography is beautiful. Unlike Aliens of the Deep, Galapagos uses full-sized IMAX film, resulting in a clarity no other medium can yet match. The directors, David Clark and Al Giddings, are nature and underwater specialists, with an eye for good subjects. They're cognizant of the medium, allowing landscapes to take fill the screen and never zooming in too much - a close-up is a fine thing when the medium is a twenty-five inch television, but somewhat overpowering on an eight-story screen. How the local animals have adapted to blend into the surroundings presents them with a few challenges, but they're up to it.

As gorgeous as the photography is, though, the movie is somewhat dry. It's not quite a lecture-with-pictures, but Ms. Baldwin isn't quite as captivating a presence as the scientists who accompanied Cameron on his expedition (or isn't edited as well). The narration by Kenneth Branagh certainly doesn't generate much enthusiasm. The movie's "ooh, that's nifty" high point probably comes as Baldwin takes samples in her submersible; the vacuum cleaner-like mechanism is a neat and functional add-on to the bubble-like yellow machines.

The nature documentary is a tough genre to rate; they have a fairly simple mission statement, and there's sometimes the feeling that if you've seen one, a lot of others will be similar. Galapagos is a good example of the genre, well worth seeking out for people who love science, nature, or great photography.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)

The title of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is not so much deceptive as it is incomplete - although they are unquestionably one of the film's main subjects, equal attention is given to the eccentric man who is their self-appointed caretaker. In many ways, this movie is even more about Mark Bittner than it is about his avian friends.

There are various theories presented as to how San Francisco acquired a flock of South American parrots; some clearly urban legends, with a story a bird-shop owner tells of one of his suppliers losing a shipment has the most credence. Despite being tropical birds, they have managed to eke out a life in this not-always-hospitable city. Bittner points out that they could have survived without him as a justification to his claim that they're wild animals (an amusing early scene has one passerby claiming that they can't truly be wild if they have names). A long-haired one-time musician, Bittner isn't completely domesticated either. His "landlords" say that they don't want to use the term "squatter", but saying that does kind of get it out there. This will be important during the movie's second half.

Read the rest at HBS.

Next on the agenda - three Japanese movies about kids without parents: Tree of Palme, Grave of the Fireflies, and Nobody Knows

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