Vibrant imagery is one of the hallmarks of a National Geographic film, and watching twin polar bear cubs roll down an icy hill like tiny snowballs is much preferable to flipping open an issue of National Geographic magazine to discover, say, endless photos of naked pygmies. Adults and children alike will enjoy Arctic Tale for its stunning visuals and almost unbelievable displays of glistening icebergs and countless shades of ice-blue. These spectacles are admittedly captivating, and viewers should be cautioned not to attach themselves to animals that just might plunge though the melting ice at any moment. This film footage is presented courtesy of directors Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson, who spent 15 years filming the seriously fucked-up habitat of the creatures that dwell upon the polar ice cap. In this land of extremes, fledgling polar bears and walruses fight to keep the status quo on a continent that just might not exist in 2040 if human beings don’t decide to stop, well, being human. Basically, folks, we’re all just gonna die, but at least we get to see some really cute polar bears before we go.
Despite the filmmakers’ desire to present Arctic Tale as a companion movie, or even a bona fide successor to March of the Penguins, this isn’t the case. In fact, Arctic Tale isn’t even a documentary film, it’s a doc-fiction hybrid that the directors describe as a “wildlife adventure.” The audience is led to believe that this adventure lends us an exclusive glimpse into the life cycles of “Nanu” the polar bear and “Seela” the walrus, which catalyzes a lovely audience attachment to these creatures. The footage is brilliantly edited, and to the most naive viewers (e.g., children), the film appears to follow the same polar bear and walrus from childhood into adulthood. In actuality, several Nanu and Seela understudies waited in anticipation for their chance at stardom and fame — the twin storylines are cut and spliced from 800+ hours of raw footage filmed over a period of 15 years. Only after the footage was edited did screenwriters Linda Woolverton, Mose Richards, and Kristen Gore draft an episodic plot and then weave the tales of Nanu and Seela into screenplay format. If that last name fails to register, then perhaps you are of the film’s true target audience — too young to even question filmmaker motives.
As an old cowboy saying goes, never trust a cowhand that doesn’t know how to properly tie a horse. In this case, the cowhand would be the film’s insufferable narrator, Queen Fucking Latifah. Through her omnipresent narration of Arctic Tale, the inevitable animal anthropomorphization occurs, by which Nanu and Seela are likened to teenage girls that the boys are beginning to notice, but we are assured that our female heroines don’t have time for boys because they’re too busy putting on mascara. This projection of human qualities onto animals is beyond tacky, and the hugely overdone flatulence jokes take the film into Howard Stern “Fartman” territory. What little credibility remains is quickly finished off by “hip” musical interludes, including Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate” (during a walrus clam feast) and The Pointer Sisters’ “We Are Family” (during the walrus group
orgies frolicking). During the underwater shots, the vividness and clarity of the animal close-ups are truly spectacular — almost too much so — creating some suspicion that a dash of CGI assistance might have been involved. Filmmaker Ravetch reportedly filmed these underwater portions 30 or 40 minutes at a time while wearing a protective dry suit to keep hypothermia at bay. Of course, it’s beyond the capacity of laymen to judge whether CGI was used to enhance the shots, just as it is beyond Queen Latifah’s ability to say whether all of this global warming shiznit is truly the fault of human beings or just part of the Earth’s cyclic nature. The film never really explains how humans destroy the Earth, but the narration would have us believe that the ice cracks appear merely because humans are naughty and need to be spanked. Yow!
Indeed, Arctic Tale would transmit a more powerful message to its audience if it had merely supplied the visual imagery without all the dogmatic narrative supplemented by completely brainless (yet totally hip!) remarks such as “all up in each others’ bidness” and “those sweet ‘staches aren’t just for stylin’.” It isn’t necessary for Queen Latifah to tell us that the walrus is swimming, for it is plainly obvious to viewers that, hot damn, that walrus is swimming. Perhaps this overbearing commentary is meant to unconsciously establish the narrator as an authority on all arctic matters (or at least, the ones she can read from the script itself). Yet no arguments based on fact are actually spoken by the narrator, but for the logical fallacies that Latifah keeps handy in her cache of lyrical genius. If anything, this method does nothing but teach children how to blindly follow the loudest argument, and certainly, someone will eventually yell at them louder than Latifah does. Serious issues like the ones raised in Arctic Tale deserve more thoughtful and coherent arguments than the ones provided here (though, if Queen Latifah ever narrates a movie about naked pygmies, I am so there).
At the end of Arctic Tale, children appear on the screen to tell us that every time you flip a light switch, a polar bear falls through a hole in the ice. This bluntest of statements could stand a bit more scientific detail for the benefit of most children, who haven’t yet developed the critical thinking skills to realize that the light switches are not directly connected to the melting ice. So mommy … did I just kill seven polar bears today?
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and prefers the warmer climates. She shows up daily at agentbedhead.com.People Suck. Run Along Now.
Film Reviews | August 22, 2007 | Comments ()