Crimson Wing: Mystery Of The Flamingos [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (9th March 2011).
The Film

How much do you know about flamingos? If you’re anything like me, your knowledge starts and stops with an image of something plastic, pink and planted in the lawn. Now, I know the flamingo is a real bird and all, but I knew nothing about where they came from, how they interacted with each other, mating rituals… hell, just about anything other than the fact that they’re real. And I think the creative team behind “The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos” (2008) figured that might have been the case for most people. Fact of the matter is, not only are they a fascinating bird of flight, but they also hail from a region of the world that many people have likely never heard of. Every animal on this planet has a story it can tell; I would surmise that few have a story that isn’t worth telling. I don’t expect people to catch flamingo fever the way they did with penguins a few years back, after all flamingos don’t look nearly as cute and cuddly. They also have the creepiest red eyes you’re likely to see outside of a Cheech & Chong movie. When you learn of the conditions these birds mate and produce chicks in, however, I’m willing to bet you’ll give them a little more sympathy. Life in the Animal Kingdom can be cruel and harsh – things aren’t easy, and happy storybook endings rarely occur.

Flamingos are one of the last creatures to take part in massive migratory movements in Africa. Every year, thousands of them descend upon Lake Natron in northern Tanzania to breed. The lake, rich with algae and having a high salinity, makes for the perfect spot for the birds to find a mate. Once the algae courses through their bodies, giving them the requisite crimson hue needed to find a mate, the heat of the desert sun dries up almost all the water in sight, leaving the grounds perfectly fertile for nesting. Once the chicks are hatched, they have a long wait before reaching maturity, losing their down feathers and being able to finally take flight. Before that, they have to deal with the hostility of the environment – many chicks that wade through the salt-heavy puddles develop calcium shackles which will leave them unable to grow, and ensures a certain death. Then there are also the birds of prey that swoop down and crush the small chicks in their beaks for seemingly no good reason; it’s certainly not for food. It can be brutal, but for every chick that dies there are dozens more that live. And when the end of the breeding season comes, there are thousands of new recruits added to the ranks that fly off into the sunset before returning next year to start to process all over again.

One thing that surprised me was that flamingos don’t seem to make the best parents. When their young are attacked and savaged by other birds, the parents simply run off to avoid any kind of confrontation. You’d think that a parent would put up a fight, maybe make some noble effort to save their young no matter the cost. But these guys just high-tail it out of there, leaving their tiny, defenseless chicks to become meat for the grinder. I understand that they’re not exactly built for fighting, and their beaks don’t even have a sharp point to use aggressively, but you’d think evolution would have given them some means to ward off intruders. I was also amazed that they didn’t have some method of cleaning their chicks’ legs of the salt which builds up and calcifies on their legs. If this is something that has been affecting their species for all this time, you would think they’d develop a means to prevent their young from building up these death shackles, but the babies that are afflicted are shown wandering around alone and aimless, often falling down and unable to regain their footing. This is surely some Darwinian selection at work here, perhaps helping to keep their numbers in check, but I felt that, as parents, flamingos come across as absent-minded and disinterested.

Unlike “Oceans” (2010), Disney’s other recent nature film, “Crimson Wing” doesn’t feature many species aside from its titular stars. This tends to make the proceedings somewhat tedious, as there isn’t much flamingos really do. There are some truly wondrous scenes of their migratory movements and mating rituals, but there’s also a lot of downtime when we’re simply treated to stunning shots of the lake while the birds settle in with their young. This would be fine for a half-hour special on the Discovery Channel, but when you’re talking about a feature film it doesn’t add up to much excitement. I felt like the filmmakers could have gone further in examining these mostly-unknown creatures. Where do they go when they aren’t at Lake Natron? We see more than enough of how they spend their time when here at the lake, but when it isn’t breeding season, and thousands of them fly off into the sky, where do they call home? Do they remain together in flocks of thousands, or do they splinter off and live independently before returning? And why does the algae give them their crimson colors? I would assume it’s because the algae itself is a rich red color, but nothing is said about the biology of how it all works. I thought the intent was to unravel the mystery of flamingo life, but once all was said and done I felt like I had more questions than answers.

Video

Just as you might have expected, the 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image looks marvelous. The searing heat of the African desert is almost tangible, just as is the calm, waveless surface of Lake Natron. The crimson hues of the birds stand in stark contrast to the sun-baked vistas that surround them, seemingly endlessly, on all sides. There is a dearth of color on display, though, with little variation from the lake’s brittle, grey surface against the flamingos’ vibrant colors. Since we spend the majority of the film centered on this on location, not much else is shown to give the picture a more robust color palette. The image is sharp and well-defined, with astounding detail displayed when shots of the flamingos’ feathers are taking up the frame, revealing each individual fiber that makes up their signature coat. Though it lacks the diversity of “Oceans”, this is a splendid transfer with some great visuals that look crystal-clear in high-definition.

Audio

The default track is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. While this isn’t a particularly dynamic soundtrack, it does feature a wonderful score courtesy of The Cinematic Orchestra, giving the picture a unique soundtrack that distances it from other, more subtle nature films. The track is balanced perfectly among the narration, never overpowering the voiceover work to the point that it’s drowned out or difficult to discern. The film’s flying stars fill out much of the track, with their thunderous, flapping movements resonating from every corner of the room. When they’re less heavy on the action side, however, things quiet down considerably, leaving a front-loaded track that doesn’t offer up much in the way of range. It gets the job done.
French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound tracks are also included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

“Crimson Wing” goes much lighter on the supplements than “Oceans” did, but to be fair there’s only one animal and one location featured here. We get some of the same informative interactive features that were found on that previous title, along with a selection of behind-the-scenes featurettes, screensaver, and bonus trailers to round out the package. A DVD version of the film is also included.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

“Living Planet” is an interactive feature that allows viewers with internet-capable players to select hotspots from around the globe in order to learn more information about the life found there.

“Filmmaker Annotations” (1080p) is a picture-in-picture video commentary feature which features the film’s crew popping up in a small box on-screen to discuss the filming of some scenes. We are also shown some behind-the-scenes footage while we learn more about how they lived among the flamingos in addition to showcasing some footage not seen in the film.

“Lake Natron Diaries: Behind The Crimson Wing” (1080p) presents a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes covering the making of this project. Though they are encoded in full high-definition, the clips are curiously presented windowboxed. Included are the following:

- “Life at the Camp” runs for 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Ever wonder how the crews who film these documentaries live while doing so? Here you’ll find the answer.
- “Life of the Flamingo” runs for 3 minutes and 25 seconds. The film’s crew discusses what drew them to making a film about this mysterious bird.
- “Making Of” runs for 4 minutes and 10 seconds. The crew talks about the logistics of the film’s shoot, including having a hovercraft shipped in for them to navigate the lake more easily.
- “Lake Natron” runs for 4 minutes and 15 seconds. Here’s a great overview of the lake, which is unknown to many and can hardly be found on most maps. It’s a fascinating place hidden away in Africa.
- “Music” runs for 4 minutes and 55 seconds. The film’s producers wanted to deliver a feature film, rather than just another documentary, so they wanted the music to feel more contemporary.

“Lake Natron and The Crimson Wing” screensaver (1080p) runs for 5 minutes and 6 seconds. This relaxing feature plays music from the film while clips of the flamingos and the lake are shown.

Bonus trailers (1080p) are included for the following:

- “Disney 3D Blu-ray promo” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds.
- “African Cats” runs for 1 minute and 47 seconds.
- “Oceans” runs for 1 minute and 34 seconds.
- “Disney Movie Rewards promo” runs for 21 seconds.
- “Disney Home Video promo” runs for 19 seconds.
- “Disney’s Friends for Change” runs for 1 minute and 5 seconds.
- “A Christmas Carol” runs for 1 minute and 18 seconds.
- “Tangled” runs for 1 minute and 44 seconds.
- “The Lion King” runs for 1 minute and 22 seconds.
- “The Search for Santa Paws” runs for 1 minute and 37 seconds.
- “Fantasia/Fantasia 2000” runs for 1 minute and 11 seconds.

DISC TWO: DVD

This DVD copy of the film contains only the “Lake Natron Diaries” featurettes, as well as something called “Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!” promo which runs for 4 minutes and 42 seconds. These pint-sized child actors (I have no idea who they are) and their TV mom espouse the benefits of owning a Blu-ray player.

Packaging

The 2-disc set comes in a standard keepcase with a glossy slip-cover that matches the cover art beneath it.

Overall

Though it’s not as engaging as “Oceans”, this feature is still worth a watch simply because flamingos are such an unknown animal to most people. I don’t think that it holds much replay value, but it’s a title worth watching at least once. As usual, Disney provides a solid video presentation along with a serviceable, if not unspectacular, audio track. And even though the extras are light, they’re quite informative and shed some light on how this film came together.

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

 


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