Judge David Johnson fought off a polar bear once with only a slingshot and an adjustable wrench. The details aren't necessary but, believe you me, it was a fight for the ages.
"If your mom and dad buy a hybrid car, you'll make it easier for polar bears to get around."—Cute kid wracked with guilt at the end of Arctic Tale
In the spirit of the smash March of the Penguins comes this documentary story detailing the exploits of a polar bear and a walrus as they struggle to adapt to a changing environment. Unfortunately, the ratio of "cataclysmic-moralizing" to "compelling-story" is hugely out of whack.
Facts of the Case
Arctic Tale is actually a fusion of two separate tales, one that tracks Nanu, female polar bear from her infancy to full-grown stature and the other focuses on Seela, Nanu's parallel Arctic pal, who we also get to watch grow up.
Nanu's adventures take her all around the Arctic ice, trailing her mom for the majority of the time and learning the ropes on how to hunt and survive. Seela kicks it with her mom, her "aunt" and the rest of the fat bastard walruses, as they fend off marauding male polar bears and gastro-intestinal dysfunction. Yes, there are farting walruses in this movie.
But most of all, Arctic Tale wants to show you pictures of cute animals that live sucky lives because you drive a Suburban.
Fine, maybe that was harsh, but the simple fact is that the storytelling aspect of Arctic Tale is mediocre at best and simply a vehicle to espouse an agenda at worst. Hey, I don't care if you want to hit me with the doom and gloom of a melting ice shelf or urge me to spend two minutes less in the shower (which, by the way, would bring me dangerously close to a sum negative time in the shower), but at least give me a compelling narrative. Because as it stands, Arctic Tale strikes me more as a Sierra Club orientation video than a "tale" of any sort.
To be fair, let me hit you with some positives. First, the cinematography ranges from great to mind-blowing. The types of shots these guys were able to snag is remarkable and, at time, head-scratching. Like, how in the name of Pete did they get those polar-bear-vs.-walrus underwater shots? Or the close-up of the seal's ice house? There's lot and lots of great stuff here and for nature documentary enthusiasts, I won't hesitate to say you'll get a big kick out of what directors Adam Ravtech and Sarah Roberston and their fearless crew were able to photograph.
And despite my disappointment with the overall story arcs, there are some truly emotionally resonant sequences, not the least of which was the brutal farewell to a main character about a third of the way in. Ouch. Nanu's segments were more compelling over her counterpart Seela's, which was highlighted by that aforementioned walrus farting.
But as the film progressed the stories became less engaging and dissolved
into an onslaught of sadness and misery as the Arctic appeared to turn into the
Florida Keys almost overnight. It got so dreary, at one point a "starving,
desperate" polar bear fights it out with a main character walrus leaving me
confused of who to root for: both creatures seem to be so distraught and
moribund you wish there was a way they both could settle down for a piping hot
meal of gull casserole. My wife came up with an easier way to settle the
emotional conundrum: "We want the starving bear to win because bears are
cute and walruses are ugly." Damn skippy.
The high-definition video treatment (1080p, 1.85:1) failed to move me. I had high hopes actually, having witnessed the snow-rendering capability of HD DVD in a previous review I did for Antarctica Dreaming. Now that picture was stunning. Arctic Tale's? Not so much. In fact, the picture quality struck me as more on par with an upconverted standard DVD. For a presentation that should have been eye-gougingly clear and detailed, the transfer proved to be soft and, at times, muddy. There were moments, specifically the footage with the walruses camped out on their rock island, offering some nice contrast and color work, but the verdict for this one is a resounding "eh." The 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus mix, frankly, didn't have much to do, save for a few windstorms here and there. Mainly, the audio was tasked with projecting narrator Queen Latifah's voice through the center channel with clarity. And it succeeded.
Extras are lean, a short making-of documentary and a kids-oriented featurette about "polar bear spotting."
An uninvolving story combined with heavy-handed proselytizing and a below-average HD transfer equal a forgettable release.
Put this one on ice. If there's any left.
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Scales of Justice
• Making-of Documentary
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