Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Idea Of Flight

If there is one area where evolution has shown an outstanding leap forward it is in the concept of flight. There is enough to ponder about how and why did terrestrial beings first felt the need to fly. Was the craving as simple as that of man, who tried all sorts of contraptions through the ages to be able to soar in the sky? Evidently their wish was far greater than what human beings have had in their relatively short existence. I am sure the need for flight was just absolutely essential for the very survival of the beings that first started hopping towards the sky.

Humankind has felt that need too, albeit for reasons far removed from survival. It is said that the tipping point in the design of first successful fixed wing aircraft was the slight curve on the top part of the airplane wings which made lift possible. Bernoulli's principle which governs this law of physics was written a century before it resulted in, arguably its best application, an airplane.

This post is inspired by the documentary film I just saw - Jacques Perrin's Winged Migration. If it ever crosses your mind to really feel what birds see during flight then this film will probably bring you closest to that vision. I quote from the DVD cover -

"..Witness as five film crews follow a rich variety of bird migrations through 40 countries and each of the seven continents. With teams totalling more than 450 people, 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers used planes, gliders, helicopters and balloons to fly alongside, above, below and in front of their subjects. The result is a film of staggering beauty..."

I tend to agree with the judgment passed in the last line above. The film really has some breathtaking photography of the actual flight of migratory birds. The close-ups are so vivid in motion that initially I thought that one of the birds in each group was carrying a camera attached to its body. As it turns out that is not the case and gliders were used. If you are very accustomed to documentaries on National Geographic or Discovery Channel this film would seem to lack in certain respects. On both of those TV channels, a documentary, whether it features birds, animals or insects, almost always has a very descriptive narrative throughout. That is not the case for Winged Migration; and I do not hold that against the film. I feel that this film, in several respects, is part of a different genre of nature-documentary films. Human intervention has been left to the very bare minimum and the viewer is left to spin his own story around the visual. Occasionally a narrative is used, but at most times only the name of the bird is provided in a subtitle. The sound, though, is different from the visual aspect. The intrusion of music is clear and very well defined. The choice of music too fits well with the sensibilities of the subject matter (and the particular scene). The end result is that the viewer feels he is actually on a migratory flight alongside these dozens of different migratory birds.

Trivia - Check the fascinating Arctic Tern which flies some 12,500 miles twice each year, from the Arctic to Antarctic! Some life, huh?

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