STEPPING OUTSIDE OUR SPECIES
By Robin E. Simmons
Savoring the rich and varied life on our awesome planet never gets old. Movies that delve into the natural world seem almost supernatural at times. Here are some recent titles for the home theater that nurture the notion that the bond between humans and our fellow creatures can be healing on many levels.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel and the 2007 hit stage play that utilized giant horse puppets, Steven Spielberg’s epic film attempts to capture the wonder of the bond between a boy and his horse. The episodic tale follows an English boy’s beloved horse that has been “recruited” into service during WW I. Later, the boy himself enters the war and is eventually reunited with his horse. It seems as if director Speilberg was attempting to mimic the style of John Ford with a twist of David Lean. Lots and lots of scenes shot with backlighting and during the morning and evening “golden hours.” It’s almost as if there’s hardly any action that does not take place at dawn or dusk! The several horses that played the lead are all beautifully photographed — there are few things more beautiful than a running horse. The episodic scenes of this over-long epic are random and disconnected and I felt little emotion in them. There’s a nice feel for the period and the British countryside is lovingly evoked, but this film does not come close to the power of the stage play and there’s a manipulative, almost patronizing, effect on the viewer that rankles. There are extensive extras including a self-serving round table discussion with the key participants, but, as usual, no commentary from Spielberg. If you love horses, you may enjoy this film solely for the wondrous imagery of these great beasts of burden and delight. Disney. Blu-ray
WE BOUGHT A ZOO
Cameron Crowe’s mostly sunny film about a widower and his children who buy a dilapidated country zoo is a fine and satisfying family film that does not denigrate or speak down to any age group. Watching Matt Damon, It’s hard not to think of Jason Bourne in retirement as part of some kind of witness protection program. He’s perfect as a grieving father with Colin Ford’s troubled adolescent son and Maggie Elizabeth Jones’ young, precocious but endearingly sweet daughter. Scarlett Johansson is an inherited zoo worker that comes with the property as do a passel of colorful co-workers. The movie, based on Benjamin Mee’s true story that’s set in England, does not go in an unexpected direction and has no surprises but is a warm and delightful visit to a place that’s almost a paradise where humans and animals can love and teach each other about some of the things that matter most. As with Crowe’s other films, the soundtrack is rich and carefully chosen and the feature length “making of” is elegant and entertaining. I wish there were more animals and that we could spend a bit more time with them. Keep an eye out for JB Smoove in a scene-stealing bit. Co-stars Elle Fanning and Thomas Haden Church make it real. I don’t like sappy sentimental stories disguised as “Family Films,” but I enjoyed this because the music added so much more than the images. 20th Century Fox. Blu-ray.
BORN TO BE WILD
I was enthralled by the journey into the Borneo rain forests and the exquisite visit with our whimsical, innocent orangutans cousins. Originally shown in Imax theaters, this stunning looking film not only spends time with rescued primates under the direction of Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas but also travels to the stark Kenyan savannah with the famous elephant authority Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick as she and her team rescue, rehabilitate and return these wise and wonderful creatures to the wild. There are many astonishing moments but one that stands out is a herd of previously orphaned elephants showing up to welcome the new younger orphans into the heard. Some things are hard top believe even when you witness it. This is a beautiful film that works on a deeper level that reminds we are all connected. Warner Bros. Blu-ray
TITANOBOA: MONSTER SNAKE
This Smithsonian Channel production takes its time to elaborate on the significance of an extinct, huge, 40 foot-long snake fossil — the largest ever found — that was discovered in the Carrejon mine in northern Columbia. I was hoping for more cgi creations of the snake so we could better grasp its scale (no pun intended), but the impressive, life-size sculptural representation near the end left an indelible impression and is the fodder of Freudian nightmares. Smithsonian Channel. Blu-ray.
It’s a small planet and we are one family. Feeling wonder, doing good and nurturing the life around us is never a bad thing.
Keep the conversation going. RobinESimmons@aol.com