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November 07, 2010

The Brainerd Dispatch - Today's Entertainment Magazine

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COVER STORY ‘The Great Migrations’ feature the beast of everything By Jacqueline Cutler © Zap2it Deep in the savanna of Kenya, time stands still for humans accus- tomed to electronics keeping their schedules.Yet the animals know what time it is. They’re genetically imprinted to know what to do, when and how. Wil- debeest gather in a herd stretching so long neither the beginning nor the end is visible. Zebras amass close to the Mara River. They seem to have the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” stuck in their collective brains. For days they have coalesced by the river’s banks, only to back away. Ultimately, they have no choice: They must cross. It’s what they do. Na- tional Geographic Channel captures this need to move in the brilliant seven-part series “Great Migrations,” premiering globally Sunday, Nov. 7. “Every animal that engages in migration is off on the great journey of its life, the emotional highs and lows we reserve for our great jour- neys,” senior producer David Hamlin says. “They do this every year. Not to humanize them, but their survival is redefining the term ‘arduous.’ ” The series, narrated by Alec Baldwin, kicks off with “Born to Move” featuring, as the others do, creatures from the land, sea and air. The amazing cinematography makes viewers feel as if they are with the animals, in this case the 1.5 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebras run- ning across the bush of the Maasai Mara. The only experience more real than watching this extreme example of the life cycle is being there. And watching gets viewers practically in- side the animals’ mouths, a vantage point best avoided in person. This southwest section of Kenya defines remote. Initially, the beiges and greens of the grassy plain look placid. But you must concentrate to see the action unfold under a vast sky, where sun rays are so dramatic you expect to see the hand of God emerge from a cloud. Termite mounds, and the skulls and bones of elephants, wildebeests and other animals bleached a blind- ing white from the sun, dot the land- scape. All appears still until a lion pounces, setting off a chain reaction. Animals stop and reverse; survival trumps migration, at least temporarily. After days of waiting, it happens: Wildebeests drop off the steep slope of the Mara River’s banks and into the water roiling with fast, muddy cur- rents. Carcasses of their fellow trav- elers lay in the denuded grass and float in the river. Those crossing the river must clear the crocodiles, which lie still enough to be rocks yet snap their jaws with astounding speed. It is a miraculous sight. Despite 28 years chronicling na- ture as a filmmaker, Dereck Joubert had never seen a crossing of the riv- er before this day in mid-September. Perched in a jeep bumping along the terrain, his luck is about to change. Later, over a Tusker, the Kenyan beer, Joubert says, “They move to feed, they move to breed. At the end The seven-part series “Great Migrations” premieres Sunday on National Geographic Channel. it comes out that there are lot of rea- sons to migrate.” Hamlin adds, “Migrations come ready made as dramas of life with tragedy, triumph, loss and redemp- tion, with a clear beginning, middle and end.” To make the cut for the film, the species had to have “a remarkable protagonist, sympathy, a creature to care about, a natural obstacle. For the wildebeest, the river; for the crabs, the ants,” Hamlin says. “When I started, I thought epic missions were global ballets. It wasn’t until I started that I realized migrations are dangerous, arduous, epic journeys.” In “Born to Move,” we see the Christmas Island red crabs. These are huge, spooky-looking crusta- ceans, not the sort one coos over. Without ever stooping to anthropo- morphism — no crabs sing — the segment makes you ache for their plight when yellow crazy ants (their real name) attack. The ants blind the crabs, then eat them. It’s a sickening part of each crab migration. This particular migration was a dream realized for Hamlin, who as a boy, read about these crabs in Na- tional Geographic. “It captivated me,” he says, “and to share that story — I never had the chance to fulfill it until this project came along.” Hamlin spent the past three years on this project. It’s so mes- merizing that it pulls in everyone associated with it. Bouncing along in the back seat of a jeep when the animals cross the river is Steve Burns. The soft-spoken executive vice president of content for National Geographic Channel just shakes his head in disbelief. “I never thought I would get to see this,” he says. It was his idea to tell the story of migrations. “I just knew migrations offered a terrific opportunity for life-and-death stories,” Burns says. “They made it great,” he says, gesturing toward the filmmakers and the animals. The first night features “Born to Move” and “Need to Breed,” show- ing what lengths creatures will go to keep the species going. “Science of Great Migrations” premieres Tuesday, Nov. 9, explain- ing how scientists gleaned the data, including harnessing a teeny camera on a butterfly, affording a fascinating point of view. In “Feast or Famine” on Nov. 14, elephants trek hundreds of miles for water in landlocked Mali, and great white sharks swim from Hawaii Disability Specialist, Inc. 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Hamlin’s hope for the series is, “When people turn off the TV and put their head down on the pillow and they will think that as I sleep tonight, the planet is churning with life. There are unbelievable journeys being taken.” Journeys critical to sustaining life. “I keep getting the sense that these migrations keep the world turning around,” Joubert says. “And without them, the world will collapse.” Member FDIC 2 x 4" ad

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