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Winged Migration

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It's hard to believe there isn't an IMAX version of Winged Migration making the rounds. Regardless, you certainly don't want to wait until this stunningly beautiful documentary comes out on video to see it. For size does matter when a movie's subject is literally as big as the whole outdoors. A coffee-table book posing as a nature doc, Winged Migration hitches a ride with our feathered friends ' geese and cranes and storks and swans and pelicans and many more ' as they fly from one corner of the globe to another. It's an activity they've been pursuing for some 80 million years, but never before have we gotten such a bird's-eye view.

Director Jacques Perrin and his 450-person crew utilized helicopters, hang gliders, hot-air balloons, ultralight aircraft and motorized parachutes to capture images that seem computer-generated, so perfectly do they mesh foregrounds and backgrounds. And what backgrounds! The Grand Canyon, the Himalayas, the Sahara Desert, the Arctic Ocean, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower ' all seven continents make appearances in this cinematic travelogue, which covers one year of back-and-forth journeys. Perrin doesn't provide much in the way of information or explanation; he's totally into pretty pictures. But when the pictures are this pretty, who cares?

I cared, actually. Enthralled by the birds' world travels, I wanted to know how and why they do it. One more slight irritation: Perrin has included a number of little incidents, as when a caged parrot uses its beak (and its noggin) to escape from a boat floating down the Amazon. Most of these incidents are designed to show us the perils of migration ' the shotgun blasts, the oil slicks, the threshing machines. But they seem staged, as most of them indeed were. And this causes us to question the authenticity of the other shots, the ones where we're somehow up there amidst a flock of whooper swans making our way north. Were some of these staged, too?

Perhaps they were, given that the filmmakers used imprinting to keep their cast of thousands in line. But authenticity isn't really what this breathtaking movie is about. It's about the celestial grace of flight, soaring through the clouds on a wing and a prayer.

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