Judge Joel Pearce wishes to assure you that Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks had nothing to do with this documentary.
Where are we coming from?
The creators of Microcosmos earned a lot of international attention after they turned their cameras to the complex and fascinating world of insects. More recently, they garnered critical attention when they moved on to birds in the stunningly beautiful Winged Migration. In the six years between those two projects, the team created Genesis, a playful yet philosophical look at the development of life.
Facts of the Case
Although there have been many theories through history, pretty well everyone agrees that the world, life, and humanity has come from somewhere. Whether you believe that we were carefully crafted or that we came out of chaos by chance, this life had to have started somewhere, and developed over a very long time. Regardless of what you believe, it's also hard to deny that there is something majestic and miraculous about this development of life. Genesis seeks to explore the beauty of our heritage, from the empty rock that was once our world to the millions of unique species that now surround us on this sphere we call home.
At its core, I suppose Genesis is really just a nature video. It chronicles the systems that are present in the natural world, and explores our own place within that network of life. There are several things, though, that make this project completely unique.
First of all, we are guided through this journey with African griot (wandering poet) Sotigui Kouyat%#233;. His voice is thankfully different than those we heard during those high school science videos, both in sound and language. Kouyat%#233; uses the language of oral myth, weaving together pieces of science and legend to tell this story of life. Even without the filmed images, his narration would be engaging and entertaining. We have so few true storytellers in our society, but he has an inherent understanding of vocal rhythm and story structure. Because of this, the spoken portion of the show always enhances what we see on the screen, rather than simply describing it.
The other thing that makes Genesis stand out is the jaw-dropping cinematography. Weighing in at a mere 80 minutes, it took the team six years to get all of this footage. Never before has a filmmaking team had such a keen eye for the character of the natural world. Each animal looks as though it may just turn and speak at any moment. The camera injects personality into footage of animals simply living their lives, just as great animation can inject life and personality into a series of simple lines. The animals simply do what they do—eat, fight, mate—but we see their lives filtered through the keen and humorous lens of the camera, which builds a rich and delightful visual tapestry.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At times, this tapestry is almost too rich. Because of the disconnect between what Kouyat%#233; says and we see on the screen, it's hard to tell whether we are really being shown the things that he describes. During the "combat" segment, some of the territorial battles look more like play fighting, though I have no way of knowing for sure. I have to rely on his interpretation of the visuals, but that is dangerous with such a philosophical and mythic film. The very thing that makes the film so unique also forces us as an audience to approach it with a certain level of caution.
I also have to admit, Genesis isn't always as intellectually engaging as it is visually pleasing. With the soft music and meandering visuals, I found myself starting to doze off at times, though that may be more because of my attitude than a weakness in the film. Still, I can't imagine most children would be willing to sit through the whole of the film, which considerably narrows its target audience. The pacing is slow, which suits the oral storytelling style of the narration, but doesn't line up with what we are used to watching. Also, the narration contains quite a bit of pseudo-scientific babble, which is easy to listen to but hard to pay attention to.
I'm also less than floored with the quality of this DVD. The image is sharp, but limited by a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. In a film so rich with detail and color, it deserves as sharp and clean a transfer as possible. Unfortunately, this disc only hints at the true beauty of the film. The sound is also flat, presented in a stereo format that does little to separate the narration from the classical music. A more immersive track would have done much to improve the viewing experience. The disc contains no true extras, other than a brief and fuzzy photo gallery. Because the narration is usually placed over other footage, the dub is less distracting than usual, but I still would have preferred the chance to see the film subtitled in the original language.
As science and technology progress, it becomes harder and harder to find things that are truly awe-inspiring. There are so few mysteries in the world, and not many miracles. Life and its origins remain something that we can only begin to explain and understand, and Genesis has succeeded in capturing the miraculous nature of the natural world. For that alone, it is an easy recommendation. It's not a disc that I would purchase, but it definitely deserves a rental.
I often get so caught up with technology that I forget how incredible the natural world is. For that important reminder, Genesis is found not guilty.
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