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Arctic Tale Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008
Image“Arctic Tale” is a nature documentary telling the story of Nanu the polar bear and Seela the walrus. When the movie opens, Nanu, her mother, and her unnamed twin brother emerge from the cave where the cubs were born. They frolic in the snow, but it’s not all fun and games for the young bears as their mother teaches them to be wary of adult male polar bears.

Seela’s first life lesson is one of survival as well. She has to learn how to how to pull herself up onto an ice floe or she could drown. Seela’s mother has an easier time with child rearing as another female walrus, dubbed “Auntie,” helps out. Early in the movie, a polar bear swims after Seela and her mother, but Auntie, being more agile in the water, is able to keep the bear away.

The animals’ lives are shown in parallel, but there is no direct mention that they could intersect in a deadly way. They both learn how to get food. Nanu is taught how to break through the ice to get seals and other creatures underneath. Seela is shown how to get clams from the ocean floor.

Summer comes to the Arctic. The ice cracks open and new life comes in the form of fish and birds. When fall arrives, the ice returns, but isn’t as hard as normal. It takes three months longer because the air and water are warmer, causing life to be more difficult for the animals. There is a tense scene as Nanu and her family eat the food that belongs to a nearby sleeping male bear.
The documentary jumps ahead two years. Nanu is now living on her own while Seela remains part of a large group. As the changing climate has altered the way of life, the animals head out to Rock Island where a confrontation is sure to happen. Obviously not all will make the return, but it’s a part of the circle of life. The movie concludes with animals finding mates and the cycle repeating itself.

While the footage looks good and it’s impressive that crew went out to record it in extreme conditions, “Arctic Tale” fails to satisfy because it is not put together well and is dumbed down for a young demographic. The DVD case makes mention that “Arctic Tale” is “From the people who brought you ‘March of the Penguins’”; however, after glancing at the credits, I can’t tell who “the people” are. They certainly weren’t the people who shot the footage or put the movie together, so it must be some executives involved in movie distribution, which is very misleading, especially because there’s little comparison between the quality of the movies.

If the viewer stays long enough, the final moments of the credits reveal the following disclaimer, “This drama has been created from the best arctic wildlife cinematography of the past decade. Nanu and Seela are composite characters whose lives are based upon material shot throughout the arctic over many years. Their stories represent the real conditions polar bears and walruses face today.” This brings up different issues. There’s no way to know what the crew recorded on their own and what they bought from a film archive, diminishing their achievement. Some of the scenes appeared to be created in editing, such as Auntie fighting off the male polar bear. We are led to believe it happened, but never see the animals in the same shot like we do during the film’s climax, and the disclaimer leads the viewer to believe it didn’t.

The film has too many moments geared towards young children. There’s a corny montage of the walruses set to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” that is soon followed up by sequence where the walruses have their own farting sequence reminiscent of “Blazing Saddles.” While it may be real, something about it looked phony and didn’t serve any story purpose. Queen Latifah’s narration makes claims that suit the story, but don’t appear to be based on anything. When one polar bear has no energy to keep moving on, she says it’s due to hunger, but there’s no way to know. The original songs sound like they are for preschoolers, happy and upbeat, but pay no attention to the lyrics.

The global warming message is somewhat over the top. It would be enough to tell the viewer about the changes in temperatures and how that affects the animals, but it’s repeated to the point of annoyance.

The movie concludes stating that “The Arctic’s summer sea ice has shrunk by 20 percent in recent decades. If the trend continues, the Arctic Ocean could be virtually ice-free in the summer of 2040.” What follows is the web address for green.nationalgeographic.com and then during the credits an appeal by cute kids with tips on how to live better and healthier for the planet.

The video image does not look good in places. Some of the shots show grain, but considering the conditions it was shot in, it can be easily overlooked. They shot in very low light under sheets of ice and they zoomed in very tight to get close-ups of polar bears.

The audio is mostly on location, and understandably wasn’t a priority. There’s not much use for surround in this story anyway as everything takes place in front of the camera.

The special features are presented in Standard Definition. The 23-minute extra “Making of Arctic Tale” is more impressive than the movie. It took 15 years to create “Arctic Tale” because the crew was able to only get two good days of shooting out of every month. Co-director Adam Ravetch shot a lot of the footage and really dedicated himself. He shot underwater in shark cage and on an ice floe. It was fascinating to see the walruses let him get so close. The time-lapse photography looked great.

“Are We There Yet? World Adventure: Polar Bear Spotting” is a six-minute adventure taken from a Canadian children’s series that airs on Treehouse TV and Discovery Kids. The hosts are brother and sister, Sam and Molly Raymond. They take a sightseeing tour out to see some polar bears, but it’s over fairly quickly, so its inclusion seems odd.

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