Arctic Tale
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (2nd January 2008).
The Film

In the mold of the successful "March of the Penguins" (2005), "Arctic Tale" is a pseudo-documentary that combines filmed footage of real polar bears with the occasional dose of CGI enhancement. A great variety of often amazing footage shot on the snowy arctic location has been edited into a compelling narrative. In parallel to a story of baby polar bears struggling for survival in the Arctic, there is also a tale of baby walruses facing similar challenges. As Nanu the bear, her mother, and her nameless twin brother trek across the ice caps, Seela the walrus swims about under the ice. The two animals will never meet, but the juxtaposition of their life stories underlines the harsh realities of survival in a climate that is 20 degrees below zero on the day Seela was born. A male polar bear is set up as the adversary, a threat to both Nanu's family and Seela's. Foxes, seals, whales, rabbits, birds, clams, jellyfish, orca, beluga, and other arctic animals show up as well. The ice and sea themselves are also primary characters, always shifting, changing, and always dictating the destinies of Seela and Nanu.
Queen Latifah narrates the docu-drama in a manner that reminded me of a latter day version of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" (1963-1988), anthropomorphizing the animals by naming them, and then setting up a story that adds a sense of drama to the proceedings. Latifah can't help but to occasionally dish out painful colloquialisms like "that's how they roll", or to describe a cluster of walruses as being "all up in each other's business" (while "We Are Family" by Chic plays in the background). Even cheaper is an extended scene showing said walruses farting. Exhaustively, this film is rated 'G'; it seems as though ratings are still based on sex/violence content, not on good taste. The bears can be a little intense, but otherwise this film is definitely aimed in tone and content towards younger audiences, although it contains material of interest to all ages.
Score is provided by Joby Talbot, and it serves its function, giving the viewer cues exactly how to feel on a scene by scene basis. It is interesting to observe how footage of a bears simply roaming the ice can be given context and a wide variety of meanings when paired with the right music and the right narration.
The idea here is more to make the viewer identify with the human aspects of these beasts, so to that end there isn't a lot of deep scientific or truly educational material being dished out. As a result, there are a few questions that remain unanswered in the end: why are the male bears a threat to their own kind? What are the ramifications and reasons for the winter ice arriving late, and the spring ice breaking up early? Is it global warming? Is it odd that Nanu's brother died, or is the infant mortality rate for polar bears usually 50%? It is also a bit odd that Nanu's brother is never given a name. Was this a device to keep us from getting too close to a little bear who would meet a sad end before the film is halfway over? I am reminded of the red-shirted guys in the original "Star Trek" (1966-1969) series, who were always destined to die. Like Nanu's brother, they are both nameless and doomed as they explore their strange new worlds.
As the end credits roll, a bunch of kids show up to give their target audience advice on energy conservation and green issues.

Video

"Arctic Tale" is divided up into 15 scenes, with a running time of 1:26:03. The photography is often beautiful, and is preserved admirably on the DVD. Colors are rich and bright, and compression artifacts are few. The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Audio

"Arctic Tale" is presented in English 5.1 surround sound, as well as English, French, and Spanish 2.0 surround. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish. Ambient effects and occasional music fill the surrounds nicely on the 5.1 version. Latifah's narrative is clear and up front in the mix. Location sound, mostly animals growling and weather are allowed to shine as needed.

Extras

> Paramount has included two featurettes and a collection of trailers as extras on this disc, below is a closer look at these supplements.

"The Making of Arctic Tale" is a featurette that runs for 24 minutes 5 seconds and turns the camera around to show the cinematographers working in the cold snow and ice to capture the great footage seen in the film. Directors Adam Ravetch and his wife Sarah Robertson tell the story of the production, from movie's inception to completion, as documentary footage sheds light on their considerable achievement. In certain ways this clip is more interesting than the feature, since it does away with the occasional mawkish sentimentality of the feature's narration, and gets into a bit more down and dirty realism. In less than one third the running time of the feature, we almost learn more about walruses and bears than we do in the feature film. Ravetch and Robertson spent years making this movie, and it is good that a feature illustrating their commitment, their process, and their journey has been included.

A companion piece, "Are We There Yet? World Adventure: Polar Bear Spotting" is a featurette that runs for 7 minutes 2 seconds and depicts the journey of a couple of cheerful kids talking about their trip to Canada to take a bear-spotting trip. This clip is as much for the kids as the previous one is for adults.

The disc also includes a theatrical trailer for "Arctic Tale" which runs for 2 minutes, and additional bonus trailers for:

- "The Spiderwick Chronicles" which runs for 1 minute 57 seconds.
- "Shrek the Third" which runs for 1 minute 30 seconds.
- "An Inconvenient Truth" which runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+

 


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