Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Year 7, Day 223 - 8/11/15 - Movie #2,117

BEFORE: From the macrocosm that is New York to the microcosm that is a field of insects.  

Another short-ish film tonight, which is fine for the documentary chain, and because I needed to spend a few hours de-cluttering the living room.  It turns out that after a few months of working part-time, a spouse tends to ask what you do all day, and wonder why some of your time can't be devoted to straightening up the house.  Hey, maybe I'll spot some dust mites that were made famous by being in this film...

THE PLOT:  A documentary on insect life in meadows and ponds.

AFTER: While I was sorting my DVDs the other day I came across the film "Oceans", which I realized was not on my list - but I'm about 50% sure I watched that as I was recording it, so no last-minute addition to the documentary chain.  I got a different sense of deja vu from watching "Microcosmos", but I think it comes from my mother making me watch so many similar nature shows on PBS when I was a kid, and when she controlled the remote, the TV dial stayed on that channel most of the time.  

It's too bad my lead-out from the documentary chain has been set, because suddenly I'm seeing how I could have paired this with "Ant-Man", or even that un-linkable Muppet film, "Kermit's Swamp Years".  Ah, well, I'm saving those last Muppet films for late in the year - and I haven't felt the urgency to run out and see "Ant-Man", or that new "Fantastic Four" film that looks like it's going to bomb.

Insects, right, I came here to talk about insects.  Shot in incredible close-up, with some kind of powerful tiny microphones (Is that a thing? Oh, right, they're called "bugs" too...) we get to hear bees that sound like jet engines, dueling beetles, and an underwater spider that grabs air from the surface so he can put himself in a bubble, though I'm not sure why.  They filmed this in a swamp in France, so I can't say I'm familiar with all of the European customs.  If you ask that French spider why he stays under the water in a bubble, he'll probably act all arrogant and suggest that you're stupid for not doing it yourself. 

A common problem with nature documentaries is the temptation to do whatever is necessary to get the shot, thus tampering with reality and not just letting the animals (or insects) be themselves.  There's definitely a fake shot here to show a bee in flight's POV, because I'm pretty sure you can't put a GoPro on a bumblebee - not yet, anyway.  

You know how everyone thinks that lemmings jump off cliffs?  It's totally not true, it was made up for a short story in 1951, and then appeared in a Disney documentary called "White Wilderness" in the late 1950's, and people still tend to believe it - lemmings do migrate in large groups, and sometimes they try to cross rivers together, causing some of them to drown if the river is too wide, but mass suicide?  No, they don't do that.  Let's stop using them as a metaphor, OK?  

There wasn't a ton of narration in this film, which was good because it allows you to draw your own conclusions about what goes on in the insect world - any thoughts or feelings the insects might be having, and who knows if they do, are those that the viewer can impart on them.  But it's also bad, because there's not much information about exactly what the insects are doing - somewhere there's got to be a middle-ground with the right amount of narration, where the facts are imparted, without conclusions being drawn about what it all means.

There's just no way my wife would ever watch this film - she hates to see insects on TV, she'd have to leave the room.  We did have a spider last year that was making a daily web on our porch, (yes, I know that a spider is not an insect, it's an arachnid) and she only learned to accept it once I pointed out that it was probably catching flies and mosquitos that were trying to get into our house.  This year a spider was building a web each night that stretched between her car and our front steps, and she hated to have to drive off each morning and destroy its web.  Eventually the web fell on to her car and she gave the spider a ride to the bank parking lot, where she had to knock it off from her car with a snow brush.  In a few weeks when the spider makes it back to our house, it's going to be very mad at her.  

The scene with the caterpillars reminded me of the summers when I was a kid, and New England got invaded by the gypsy moths.  Those caterpillars ate everything in sight, and home supply stores kept running out of the traps and the goo you were supposed to spread on tree trunks so they couldn't climb up to the leaves.  Parents kept encouraging kids to go outside and step on all the caterpillars they could find, but I remember that being a really disgusting pastime. 

Starring the voice of Kristin Scott Thomas (last seen in "Random Hearts")

RATING: 4 out of 10 mating dragonflies

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