I’ve always admired birds and their ability to fly. I found out one day just how graceful birds are when I actually stopped to look at one. The combination of power and grace used in a simple flap of the wing was almost magical. But you can only observe so much standing at one angle on the side of a pond or looking up at the sky. Director Jacques Perrin’s spectacular documentary Winged Migration takes observation a step further as he literally seems to take flight with flocks of birds as they make their annual migration.
The film spans 40 countries and seven continents as it traces the migration patterns of various kinds of bird species. It’s a strange mix of familiar fowl and feathered oddities like I’ve never seen in my small corner of the world.
Winged Migration is more of a meditation on nature than a scientific exploration of the travel habits of birds. There’s no narrative and only limited narration. It is something to experience rather than learn from. What you’re watching is exotic birds from all over the world converging for an annual tradition rivaling my own weekly trek to McDonald’s for a Big Mac. Ok, so for the birds it’s about survival. I’d like to say a Big Mac attack is the same but my ever-growing gut would tell you different.
Perrin (who also wrote, produced and narrated) once again pays tribute to the process of nature as he did with Microcosmos, a real bug’s life of sorts that focused on the insect world. The most amazing thing about Winged Migration is the detailed view we get of the birds as they flap their wings and glide through the air currents. Employing a creative and innovative mix of camera set-ups, Perrin is able to literally fly alongside flocks of birds and get the view from the middle a gander’s skyward V. The feeling you get watching this is nothing short of exhilarating as you witness nature in action and see in great detail the many small bird muscles working their magic.
There’s even a little unexpected levity as the birds do bird things. A sucker for well-placed potty humour more than I’d like to admit, Perrin tosses in a couple of spots that would make the Farrelly brothers proud.
The best visuals tell a story, even if they’re only on screen for a short period of time. Laced throughout Winged Migration are spots where nature and humans collide. Perrin’s cautions feel a little heavy handed in a couple of instances but he does use it to make an important point that’s beautiful to boot.
Bird watching has always been relaxing. But now I’ve got a whole new outlook and sense of awe for those wings in the sky responsible for always using the family car and, on occasion, my dad’s shoulder for target practice.
Winged Migration Gallery