My latest post at PJM — something non-political this time around:

When Films are Ruined by “Special Features”

A teaser:

“Recently I rented a DVD of the award-winning 2003 documentary Winged Migration. Famed as one of the most unique and beautiful films ever made, Winged Migration literally takes the viewer up into the sky as it follows birds on their long-distance seasonal flights around the world. Somehow, seemingly as if by magic, the cameras are right there amongst the migrating birds, and you feel as if you are flying thousands of feet in the air with your fellow avians over landscapes which range from the picturesque to the breathtaking. When the film was over, all I could say was “Wow!”

Making Winged Migration.

And then, I made the terrible, terrible mistake of clicking on “Special Features” in the DVD menu. Ten minutes later, I realized retroactively that I didn’t like the film after all. In fact, I hated it.

Why? Because among the special features was one of those short “The Making of…” mini-documentaries which divulged the secrets of how they filmed Winged Migration. And it revealed that the film was all a lie. A beautiful lie, but a lie nonetheless.

The filmmakers had not documented any actual migrations. Not only were the birds not migrating, they weren’t even wild birds! They were basically trained actors, with wings. The “making of…” documentary showed, step by step, how they had hand-raised some migratory birds from the moment they hatched and had, using the “imprinting” techniques of Konrad Lorenz, tricked the birds into thinking that the cameramen were their mommies. As explained in wikipedia, “The filial imprinting of birds was a primary technique used to create the movie [Winged Migration], which contains a great deal of footage of migratory birds in flight. The birds imprinted on handlers, who wore yellow jackets and honked horns constantly. The birds were then trained to fly along with a variety of aircraft, primarily ultralights.”

So to film the birds “migrating” somewhere, the director actually just attached a camera to a motorized hang glider (called an “ultralight”), then let the birds out of their cages and started filming as the birds followed the ultralight around on a short flight, after which they all landed and were put back in cages. To make matters worse, the birds didn’t follow the ultralight from region to region on long-distance flights, as the viewer was led to believe. No, as revealed to my shock in the “making of…” documentary, the filmmakers packed the birds away in shipping containers and actually trucked them around the world (on vehicles or in jetliner cargo holds) and then unpacked them only when they were at some pre-determined spot chosen by location scouts for its natural beauty. At which point, the ultralight would again take off, and the “migrating birds” would follow it around for a few minutes, before landing and getting back in the cages. …”

Read the rest here.

6 Responses to “When Films are Ruined by “Special Features””

  1. 1CattusMagnus on Feb 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm:

    Aw, man. I was interested in seeing Winged Migration until now. How can they even call it a documentary when everything is so staged? Lame. Instead of movies, I’ve been much more absorbed in HBO or Showtime series like The Tudors, Big Love, and Deadwood lately. And the special features on those have never disappointed.

  2. 2Squanto McButterpants on Feb 8, 2010 at 10:32 pm:

    Wow, this blog is dead now. Way to go, New Zombie. You killed off a great website that Old Zombie worked so hard to create.

  3. 3zombie on Feb 8, 2010 at 11:29 pm:

    #2 Squanto McButterpants

    There is only one me.

    For five years I had no comments at all on my site, as I had no “blog” — just a repository of essays. Even when I did have a blog for the last 18 months, I would generally only post very infrequently — sometimes as little as once a month. Averaged out on a per-day basis, I probably actually get more comments now than I did back then, even if each individual post gets fewer comments, since I post MUCH more frequently now. And if you combine the comments here with the comments at PJM, I’m certainly getting far more comments now than ever.

    Besides, I don’t blog for that reason (i.e. to build a big comment-community). If people have something to say about a topic, fine by me; and if they don’t, fine by me too. I don’t have ads here or anything like that, so I don’t go to any effort to jump on popular topics just to draw people in.

    The “posts” here now are mostly just notifications that I’ve made a post elsewhere, so there’s much less of a reason to comment here, which I perfectly understand, and have no problem with. I will continue to make original posts here and here only on occasion — perhaps at the same infrequent rate as before — but in between those original posts will be dozens of “notification posts” which I wouldn’t expect to get a lot of comments. Especially on non-political topics like this one.

  4. 4Fred Mangels on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:52 pm:

    She sure told you, Squanto!

  5. 5Zimriel on Feb 14, 2010 at 12:53 pm:

    Ugh, troll poo. Don’t you have a post to downding somewhere?

    Anyway I don’t think “Making Of” documentaries hurt a film. What hurt this film was the initial fakery – if they wanted to run what you’re saying is a live-action cartoon, but had SAID SO, no problem. The “Making Of” just revealed the problem.

  6. 6Zimriel on Feb 14, 2010 at 11:22 pm:

    The “troll” to which I referred was comment #2, not Zombie. Apologies for the confusion