No, it’s not a music video of the old Steppenwolf song. “Born to Be Wild” is a brief (forty-one minute), 2011 nature study, primarily intended for youngsters and originally shot and released for theaters in IMAX 3-D. Of its kind, it’s entertaining, poignant, educational (at least for kids), inspirational, and certainly beautiful to look at.
“This story is like a fairy tale, except it’s entirely true. And we don’t know yet how it will end.”
That’s Morgan Freeman’s voice at the beginning of the picture. Right away, you know you’re going to have a good time because just listening to Freeman’s voice ensures a good time. Ever since he narrated “The Shawshank Redemption,” filmmakers have been anxious to use his voice-overs to enhance as many of their movies as possible. The story really is a fairly tale, too. It’s a magical story of real-life sacrifices for the good of the planet and everyone on it. Yet, like a good fairy tale, it’s set in faraway places, which may not seem important until you’ve seen the movie.
“Born to Be Wild” chronicles the activities of two people, Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas and Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, who work in tropical climes on opposite sides of the world, both of them having devoted their lifetimes to saving animals. Dr. Galdikas has lived in Borneo most of her life studying wild orangutans, and with her fellow caregivers rescues the young ones in danger, ones that have lost their parents, and raises them until they are old enough to return to the wild. Dr. Sheldrick, born and raised in Kenya, also works with fellow caregivers, together sheltering and caring for baby elephants that have likewise found themselves orphaned, providing them love and attention until they, too, can return to the wild. As Freeman tells us, the animals are under human care but not control. They need to return to their wildness.
The movie is one “aw” moment after another as we alternate between Borneo and Kenya, between the stories of the young orangutans and young elephants. Both of the human characters, Freeman explains, started out simply wanting to study the animals, yet both women came to find lifelong friends among them.
Interestingly, the animals at the center of the film lead very different lives. Elephants are quite social and live in family units, herds; orangutans are far more solitary. So, raising the young animals requires very different approaches. As the film goes on, there are more “aw” moments than you might expect, some of them enough to bring tears of joy and happiness to one’s eyes. However, this is not a story of Man’s indifference to the Earth and the animal kingdom; it’s not a political treatise on Man’s inhumanity or Man’s selfishness and greed, although one is certainly free to infer such ideas from the narrative (poaching and land clearing are primary reasons for orphaned animals). No, the film is a celebration of joy, kindness, understanding, and love. If anything, it sort of makes one feel badly about not doing enough oneself to preserve and maintain the wildlife we have around us.
The stars of the show are the animals themselves, of course, and the real Doctors Galdikas and Sheldrick, but we also get several other stars. First, there’s Freeman and his kind, gentle, soothing narration. Second, there’s the director, David Lickley (“Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees,” “Bears,” “Mysteries of the Great Lakes”), who obviously has done this sort of thing before; he moves the film effortlessly between the two parts of the planet, maneuvering so smoothly we sometimes forget the two stories are worlds apart. Third, there’s the director of photography, David Douglas, whose camera work is wholly captivating in its visual splendor. You’ll find no quick edits, shaky cams, or extreme close-ups here to mar the movie’s often stunning scenes.
“Born to Be Wild” is, admittedly, a short movie, almost a featurette, in the tradition of IMAX nature studies; yet it’s so touching (and so lovely to watch), one can hardly fault its not being longer. Besides, it may be just long enough to appeal to the attention span of a youngster, and I say that meaning no disrespect to a young person’s attention span. There have been any number of films for adults I wish were this brief.
IMAX shoots in 65 mm, so we’re in for some very good picture quality. The Warner video engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to do the transfer justice, trimming the original 1.44:1 aspect ratio to 1.78:1 to fit a widescreen TV and presenting the film here in regular 2-D. (There is also a 3-D edition available, if you’re interested.) However, 2-D or not, the image is spectacularly impressive. Indeed, it may be even better in 2-D because without the 3-D glasses, you don’t have the dimming you might have otherwise. Anyway, the colors are beautiful, vivid in every way, practically glowing with vitality; they’re bright but in a natural way. Moreover, the definition is crystal clear; it’s one of those films where you can see every leaf on every tree, which in a movie set in various rain forests is pretty important. For kids, the movie’s appeal will lie no doubt in the behavior of the animals; for adults, it may be as much about the visual beauty of the landscapes as it is a fascination with the creatures.
Warners use lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio to reproduce the soundtrack, which, given that the soundtrack is mostly narration may seem a bit extravagant. But, at least for me, I welcome every last bit of fidelity, and there is certainly nothing wrong with having the very best possible sound. Mainly, the surround signals light up the five primary channels with environmental noises galore, sounds of the rain forest like wind, birds, and other animals. On the few musical background numbers we hear, there is good bass and impact. And voices, especially Freeman’s, are smooth and lifelike.
Disc one of this two-disc Combo Pack contains the feature film on Blu-ray. In addition, there are six
“Webisodes,” brief featurettes that provide behind-the-scenes footage and information on the making of the movie. These include “Borneo” (2:48 minutes), “Kenya” (2:33 minutes), “Camp Leakey” (2:39 minutes, “Coming Home to Tsavo” (3:38 minutes), “‘Wild’ Filmmaking” (3:31 minutes), and “Caregivers” (3:21 minutes). Beyond the Webisodes, there are five scene selections (well, it is a short film); BD-Live access; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Disc two is a DVD containing the feature film in standard definition. If that isn’t enough, you also get a download code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy to instantly stream or download to your computer and compatible Android, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices (the offer expiring April 17, 2014). A colorful, light-cardboard slipcover encloses a flimsy, double Eco-case.
“Born to Be Wild” is fun, moving, and a delight to see. Its only drawback is that it’s so short at a mere forty-one minutes, given the cost of a Blu-ray Combo Pack, it might seem too steep a price to pay for so brief a movie experience. Nevertheless, if you have a young family, the cost may be worth it for the lessons it provides in nature conservation and living together on and sharing the planet. It’s quite a lovely film.