The following article is from the book Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Nature Calls.
Need an idea for a great nature film to watch? (And no, 1966’ s The Wild World of Batwoman does not count.) Here are a few suggestions from Uncle John’s own collection.
1. SERENGETI SHALL NOT DIE (1959)
“Described by legendary wildlife filmmaker Alan Root as ‘perhaps the best-known and most influential wildlife film ever made,’ Serengeti Shall Not Die is an intimate and evocative account of the wildebeests’ yearly migration. Hoping one day the boundaries of Serengeti National Park would encompass the entire movement of these massive herds, German conservationist Professor Bernhard Grzimek researched the route of the herds. Serengeti Shall Not Die is widely credited with alerting the world to the plight of Africa’s wildlife, the Grzimek’s aerial census bringing to life the dwindling numbers of numerous species.” (WildFilmHistory.org)
2. PLANET EARTH (2006)
“Seven continents. Five years. A $25 million budget. A total run time of 530 minutes. "Planet Earth" is an undertaking so epic in scope that it earns comparisons to the grandest Hollywood blockbusters. It’s the Titanic of television nature documentaries. The production employed over a dozen of the world’s most renowned nature photographers, sent them out to traverse the globe for over 60 months, capturing the planet’s most amazing landscapes and creatures in stunning high-definition. Even the title of the series is ballsy— you don’t name your documentary "Planet Earth" if you’re not aspiring to something monumental.” (Peter M. Bracke, High-Def Digest)
3. NEVER CRY WOLF (1983)
“This is the haunting story of a scientist who is sent to the Arctic to study wolves. Unfamiliar with the wilderness, Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) finds himself unprepared for his stay in the frozen desolation. Based on Farley Mowat’s study of wolves for the Ottawa Wildlife Service, this beautifully photographed wilderness film is as fine as director Carroll Ballard’s previous film, Black Stallion. Capturing the changes a man goes through as he learns about life in the wilds, Never Cry Wolf is very informative, but it is Smith’s performance that makes the film a resounding success. (TV Guide)
4. WALKABOUT (1971)
“In its simplest terms it’s the story of an attractive fourteen-year-old girl (Jenny Agutter) and her six-year-old little brother (Lucien John, the real-life son of [director Nicholas] Roeg) residing in a luxury apartment in Sydney, Australia, with their depressed upper-class English geologist father (John Meillon), who takes the children to the outback and tries to shoot them, and when that fails blows up the car and shoots himself. The children are left in the harsh Australian outback. They are saved by a sixteen-year-old aborigine on walkabout (a tribal initiation into manhood), who helps the kids by getting them to tune in to nature.” (Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews)
5. GRIZZLY MAN (2005)
“We know this about Timothy Treadwell: He lived with bears in Alaska for thirteen summers and died by being eaten by one. The movie, built mostly from Treadwell’s sometimes extraordinary and always self-dramatizing video footage, expects our morbid curiosity; it is a check on a culture that elevates the Crocodile Hunter to pop hero and probably an indulgence of that culture’s darkest fantasy. Its power is in the way Herzog authenticates and complicates the suggestion that Treadwell ‘got what he deserved.’” (Jonathan Kiefer, Sacramento News & Review)
6. THE COVE (2009)
“The narrator is Richard O’Barry who, in the 1960s, trained the dolphins used in the Flipper TV show. But when one of these intelligent mammals apparently committed suicide in his arms by closing her blowhole, he realized something was terribly wrong. Now a passionate animal-rights activist, he attempts here to film a secretive dolphin hunt at a remote cove in Taiji, Japan, where thousands are caught each year, some to be killed for meat, the rest to be sold to theme parks. Richard and his team set up camouflaged cameras and underwater recorders in a bid to capture the slaughter. The result is shocking, electrifying and enough to put you off a trip to SeaWorld for good.” (David Edwards, The Daily Mirror)
7. THE SILENT WORLD (1956)
“Fans of underwater diving and sea life will be both shocked and disturbed to visit this Oscar-winning documentary by famed diver and explorer Jacques Cousteau. Although he’s known as a pioneering marine conservationist, this film demonstrates a horrifying level of disrespect towards marine animal life, with various sequences showing the crew ‘riding’ on the backs of sea turtles; attacking a school of sharks because they ‘dare’ to circle around a dead whale and eat its flesh; and dynamiting a coral reef. With that said, those who can stomach these scenes should at least appreciate Cousteau’s groundbreaking work in the field of underwater cinematography. Assisted by a young Louis Malle, Cousteau captured haunting footage of life underwater— the type of imagery we take for granted now, but which was remarkably innovative at the time.” (FilmFanatic.org)
8. THE BEAR (1988)
“Storytelling doesn’t get much purer than this— a film with virtually no dialogue and not a minute that isn’t fascinating, either for the plot it pursues or the way director Jean-Jacques Annaud gets his ursine stars to do what he wants. The story deals with a young cub who, after his mother is killed in a landslide, bonds to a lumbering male Kodiak. The two of them then must cope with an invasion of hunters into their territory— and Annaud makes it clear whose side he’s on. Aside from stunning scenery, the film offers startlingly close-up looks at bear behavior. They say the best actors are the ones that let you see what they’re thinking, a trick Annaud manages with his big, furry stars.” (Marshall Fine, Gannett Newspapers)
The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Nature Calls. From hornywinks to Dracula orchids, from alluvium to zymogen, Uncle John is embarking on a back–country safari to track down the wackiest, weirdest, silliest, and most amazing stories about the natural world.
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