PBS // 2012 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 27th, 2012
Birds of beauty, intelligence and charm.
Perhaps due to the snowy owl's association with the Harry Potter franchise, the PBS Nature documentary Magic of the Snowy Owl seems particularly eager to depict the creatures in a fantastical manner. "They are capable of surviving in conditions which are far too harsh for mere mortals," narrator Chris Morgan intones. "No one knows how they're able to survive such harsh elements, but they do, as if by magic," he breathlessly adds. That sort of silliness continues for a few minutes before the documentary finally settles down and starts focusing on the actual details of the many challenges snowy owls face.
While many Nature documentaries frequently offer some unflinching moments of harsh reality (as nature itself tends to do), viewers should be cautioned that Magic of the Snowy Owl is particularly heart-wrenching stuff. It documents the brief life, struggles and death of a young owlet in melancholy fashion, and generally paints the lives of these beautiful owls as a struggle of Job-like proportions. Filmmaker Michael Male worked tirelessly to capture the footage, shooting seven days a week (and sometimes shooting up to 22 hours a day) in harsh conditions in the hopes of documenting the snowy owl's child-rearing processs.
This is a very brief review, but there's little left to say aside from repeating the information offered by the documentary itself. The human presence is smaller than usual for one of these documentaries, as very few talking heads appear over the course of the special. The footage is consistently exceptional, and the stellar DVD transfer helps that. A sturdy, understated Dolby 2.0 Stereo track gets the job done. As usual for these Nature releases, there are no supplements on the disc.
Magic of the Snowy Owl initially comes across as a too-cutesy take on a too-cute animal, but soon reveals itself to be a crushingly sad, mournful tale of struggle and loss (though there are certainly silver linings here and there). It's not a particularly fun hour, but it is an informative one.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated