Wildlife documentaries are popular for giving the viewer an intimate view into the world of animals, reptiles, insects and so forth, allowing us to see things we normally wouldn’t get to see due to both the dangers, and geographical logistics involved. While there have been many documentary segments done on various insects around the globe, none have gotten as astonishingly close to these living organisms during such pivotal moments in their existence as Microcosmos does.
It took fifteen years of research, and three years of shooting on cameras that took two years to create just for this film in order to complete this documentary, and if that’s not dedication to something you love, I’m not sure what is. Luckily for Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, who co-wrote and co-directed the film together, their labour of love paid off, as Microcosmos is definitely a rare experience to be had.
There are a great many moments during the film’s 75-minute runtime that are just shocking to see so close. While the hatching of a butterfly from a cocoon is wonderful to watch in its own right, it was the birth of a bee (though it could have been a wasp) from its larva state all the way to it building its own cocoon, to it breaking free as a full grown bee (or wasp). It’s really amazing to see such a thing so close, as there is no privacy to be had for these insects in this documentary.
There are multiple moments where mating is shown, and who knew that the biggest exhibitionist would be the snail? But they are, and as the two go at it (albeit in an affectionate looking way) their “romance” is met with an orchestrated score that just screams, “These two snails are in love, now watch nature in all its glory.”
The score is a major character in this film, as there is almost no narration throughout. In fact, there’s only an opening and closing statement made by the narrator, and the rest of the storytelling is left up to the musical score, and the insects themselves. This isn’t a bad thing, as the score does exactly what a narrator usually does, and places human characteristics onto the insects, so that their actions are more relatable to the viewer; however, there are definitely moments where I found myself wondering why certain insects were doing what they were doing and found myself missing the all-knowing narrator that usually explains their actions to us. At the same time, the poetic use of the orchestrated score does accomplish what the filmmakers wanted, and allows us just to be voyeurs into this small world that we’re usually not aware of as we walk on top of it in our every day lives.
Another shocking sequence was watching a rainfall up close and how it affects this world of insects. Whenever there’s a quick shower, or a day of rain, it’s a pain for us because we get a little wet while running to the car, or we can’t BBQ. Well, in the world that exists right below our feet, a small shower can mean the difference between life and death, and a few hours of heavy rain is the equivalent of a flash flood for us. Anthills are destroyed and caved in, while other insects are stranded as the waters rage around them. Once the storm subsides, it’s back to work, as the ants rebuild their home, and those insects lucky enough to not get caught up in the flood regain their footing and move forward. It’s these up close encounters that one never really thinks about that really make Microcosmos an interesting watch.
Of course, not all of the footage was captured in the wild, as Nuridsany and Perennou rebuilt certain sections of the habitat in order to capture the truly up close shots that they desired to match what they had laid out in pre-production. It’s also crazy to learn that certain shots they wanted (such as the dragonflies laying their eggs) only happened once a year, and if their schedule for that particular insect overlapped with another, they had to wait a full year to get the footage of that shot.
Microcosmos is a very interesting look into the world of insects, and it still stands strong today, even though it was filmed back in 1996. It’s definitely worth seeking out, and it will make you think twice next time before you swat a spider or a fly. You’ll likely still swat it because, well, it’s a bug; but you’ll very likely think twice about it beforehand.
The video aspect of the documentary is sharp and crisp, filled with vibrant colours, and solid darks. The audio for the film is beautifully transferred, with the orchestrated score coming through loud and clear at all times. The various sounds of the insects throughout are also perfectly transferred, helping bring the entire world to life.
There are three special features found on the disc that are hefty in both length and content.
The World of Microcosmos – This feature runs at 40-minutes in length and sees Nuridsany and Perennou talk about their love of nature, and everything that went into the building of the film. They’re French, so the feature is presented with subtitles, yet their passion for the topic helps make it all more interesting.
The Making of Microcosmos – This feature is 13-minutes in length, and is basically a behind-the-scenes look at how the filmmakers went out into the fields around their studio in order to find some of the principle “cast” for the documentary. We get to see the cameras they built for the piece, as well as the homemade set they used to get a number of the close-up shots.
The Story of 5 Cesars – This is a 48-minute feature that covers the musical side of the film, as well as the editing and sound aspects. It’s filled with interviews that are also subtitled, but it really shows how much time and effort went into putting together this documentary.
Microcosmos is something that everyone should see at least once, as it gives an unbelievable perspective into a world that literally functions right below our feet. Not all sequences in the film are as interesting as others, but more often than not, the scenarios caught on film are things you won’t find anywhere else. Highly recommended.
An Alliance Films Release Miramax and Jaques Perrin Present Microcosmos. Written & Directed by: Claude Nuridsany & Marie Perennou. Running time: 75 minutes. Rating: 18A. Released on Blu-ray: Dec. 13, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.