French co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud spent four year filming “Seasons,” a gorgeous film in the tradition of their previous works “Winged Migration” and “Oceans.” The film is lavish in its photography and its ambition, but it does remind me of a really good episode of BBC’s “Planet Earth” series, or “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” I did love that show when I was a kid.
It wasn’t five minutes into “Seasons” and I started hearing Marlin Perkin’s voice. “I stayed at the base camp while Jim wrestled this giant Anaconda.” It always amazed me, seeing wild animals in their habitat and naturalist Jim Fowler living the dangerous life while Marlin seemingly got to stay in the shade and safety. Best of all, the show had a certain tranquility in the way it showed animals both typical and rare existing in the real world. This is also one of the things “Seasons” does very well. There is amazing photography throughout, and the music sounds crisp and stays subdued. Sure, the movie wears its eco-friendly message on its sleeve, but there is a tree-hugger in all of us. The beauty of nature and majesty of wild animals is universal.
There aren’t a whole lot of exotic animals to see, but there are plenty of wild horses and wolves. The wolves look playful at times, and bare their teeth others. Unaware they are being filmed, the snow serves as a white backdrop to capturing the animals in action. The Hawthorne effect states that there is a form of reactivity in which subjects modify an aspect of their behavior in response to the knowledge/awareness that they are being studied. Most of the film captures the animals in between trees, on uneven terrain and just being themselves.
The film breaks down into seasons, the first one being lovely green shots of life emerging from the frozen wasteland. Humans get a pretty bad rap, and don’t appear until about 40 minutes into the picture. The directors use people minimally, and mostly as a threat to the animals. There’s an arrowhead necklace that is supposed to symbolize something, maybe hunters? Danger? The march of time? The change of seasons from animal to man? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, maybe not. It doesn’t add to or distract from the beauty of the film to have people included, it just seemed so pointless to have them at all. But that’s just me, and I’m not usually consulted on the content of noble documentaries that are wonderfully shot and easy to get lost in.
At its best, “Seasons” – opening Friday, November 25 at Ken Cinema – is a reminder of what great educational TV used to be and what a benefit widescreen showing of a documentary can be.