Review: Great Migrations (2010)


Directed by: Ricardo Andrade, Catherine Eunice | 350 minutes | documentary | Original voice cast: Alec Baldwin | Dutch voice cast: Jeroen Krabbé

Migration is inextricably linked to the struggle for survival that many wild animals (have to) feed every day. The reasons behind the most epic quests in the animal kingdom are extremely diverse. Sometimes hunger is the driving force that drives hundreds or thousands of animals to look for new, lush food grounds. But also the alluring, sultry call of an attractive love partner can encourage animals to a long wander that often even takes place across several continents. But mass migrations can also be driven by the climate or the change of seasons. In any case, it is clear that there are few themes that provide such spectacular scenes and vistas as animal mass migrations. Reason enough for the National Geographic Society to invest a lot of time, money and manpower in a documentary that should portray animal migration in all its aspects in a penetrating way. In order for the Great Migrations project to come to fruition on screen, the National Geographic production team filmed for nearly three years and traveled 670,000 kilometers across 20 countries, covering all seven continents. Financially and in terms of production, “Great Migrations” is therefore the most extensive project that the National Geographic Society has taken by its horns in its illustrious 122-year history.

No wonder wildlife enthusiasts worldwide had high hopes for “Great Migrations”. And rightly so, is the conclusion after viewing the countless hours of very diverse visual material that is presented to the viewer. The first scene of the series, for example, is already striking and in several ways characteristic of the documentary. We see a young wildebeest trying desperately to cross a swirling crocodile-strewn river. When he is almost reunited with his mother at a tangible distance from the riverbank, tragedy strikes mercilessly. The immense mouth of a huge crocodile encloses the animal, drawing the young wildebeest to a watery grave. The scene is breathtakingly portrayed while simultaneously capturing the beauty, rawness and ruthlessness of wild nature in a colorful etching of moving images. It is not surprising that the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is widely covered in “Great Migrations”, because this mass displacement is not for nothing the largest migration spectacle that takes place annually on land. But the documentary series also takes a masterful look at lesser-known animal journeys. What about the beautiful and delicate monarch butterflies. These butterflies hibernate in Mexico, but in the summer months migrate towards the northern parts of the American continent, driven by an internal GPS system that is adjusted to the position of the sun and the time. Or the red army that annually takes possession of Christmas Island, a modest clump of land in the Indian Ocean, when the tens of thousands of red crabs move over land towards the water to respond to the call for reproduction. An odyssey that is not without its dangers. Numerous crabs die on the way, crushed by car tires or overwhelmed by the frenetic death squads of the yellow crazy ants introduced by man on the island. We also follow Mali’s desert elephants as they cross the inhospitable Sahel on their way to Lake Banzena, a sunlight-sprinkled oasis in a dusty world of unending thirst. Unfortunately, the elephants in Mali have less and less space due to the expanding human habitation, making it more and more difficult for the pachyderm in the current era to follow their ancient migration routes. A heartbreaking excerpt, in which the members of an elephant herd cherish the remains of a dead youngster and grope with their trunks, shows that the arrogant premise that only humans have the capacity to mourn the death of a beloved family member is now obsolete. Furthermore, ‘Great Migrations’ also follows the long journeys of various birds in North America, the sea voyages of whale sharks, sperm whales, white sharks and elephant seals (which despite their immense size still regularly end up as savory shark snack) and the migration of American gaff antelopes. , the fastest long-distance runners in the world.

Very interesting – especially for the searching minds among us – is the episode “The Science of Migration”. By making full use of the gadgets provided by modern technology, scientists are attempting to better understand the course and logic behind the astonishing journeys common in the animal kingdom. The so-called date diarrhea

For example, s (transmitters that collect data) reveal many secrets about elephant seals’ migratory behavior that were previously hidden from the eyes and ears of science in the murky ocean depths. Remarkably, we see how technician Martin Wikelski and butterfly expert Chip Taylor have even managed to develop a transmitter that is so small and light that it can be attached to a monarch butterfly. In any case, the provision of information plays a more prominent role in “Great Migrations” than in comparable epic documentary series such as “Planet Earth” or “Life”. The series is not just a collection of breathtaking images, but a science-based production that you as a viewer will learn a lot from. The only exception is the bonus film “Rhythm of Life”, in which the most beautiful images from the series, accompanied by beautiful music, are reviewed. Alec Baldwin (English version) and Jeroen Krabbé (Dutch version) are expertly responsible for the flowery, sometimes somewhat puffy commentary accompanying the images. Krabbé’s warm voice certainly fits perfectly with the images that pass by.

The National Geographic Society has every reason to be proud of this production. “Great Migrations” certainly deserves a place among groundbreaking series such as “Planet Earth”, “Life” or “The Life of Mammals”. The raw edge distinguishes “Great Migrations” from its legendary predecessors. In recent years, some quarters have also expressed cautious criticism of the money-consuming nature of mega-projects such as “Great Migrations”. Why is the money not just spent on nature conservation? But it is precisely by sliding back the curtain and making a broad public aware of the natural wonders that our planet still harbors, you create support for the protection of endangered animals and vulnerable ecosystems. That is – in addition to the viewing pleasure that beautiful nature documentaries produce – the most important gain.

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