Rather than rely only on its calming, vivid cinematography, Flight of the Butterflies hones in on Fred and Norah Urquhart’s life’s work. They spent decades tracking the flight patterns of the Monarch butterfly, sourcing how they migrated through the winters, creating a rather captivating scientific tale.
Flight of the Butterflies has but 40 minutes to spill 40 years of history – Urquhart’s work began in 1950 – and to explore the life cycle of the insects themselves. It’s crowded, but finds the time for serene images of Monarch’s at rest while using the lush cinematography to create an engaging nature documentary. Harping on the lack of preservation is deserved.
While disappointing to see CG stand-in for certain revealing moments, it’s a necessity. Given where Monarch’s go to escape frigid northern winters, no one could lug IMAX cameras into such an isolated area. Urquhart died in 2002, yet capable actors (a rarity for IMAX productions) stand-in and draw the necessary emotion when key discoveries are made.
With its startling images, Flight of the Butterflies captures these insects moving as National Geographic would in stills.
Opening on an image of a forest, layered with trees and grass, Flight of the Butterflies lands near the upper tier of Blu-ray presentations. Thick with fidelity and detail, images stream from the disc with immediate clarity. Resolution produces marvelous definition, rendering the complexities of tall grass, weeds, and tree bark without fault.
Given the space available to a 40-minute documentary, bitrates are allowed to remain obscenely high. Near the closing moments, as thousands of Monarch’s begin their journey back north, no compression can be spotted.
A handful of softer images do cause a small blot on perfection, although the source is at fault rather than the disc. Same goes for some dry black levels in the early going. They dissipate quickly and later correct themselves. Contrast remains rich and full in the daylight hours, letting butterflies soak up sunlight to the benefit of this presentation.
While not always great, the sequences where 3D becomes a focus are startling. The title card, with butterflies swirling around a blue backdrop, places the bugs in every plane, aggressively poking from the screen too. Depth comes naturally. Seeing layers of trees or grass creates instant fall-in effects. A truly impressive showcase is a close-up of thousands of butterflies latched onto a tree in close. Their wings are all given dimension as the camera pans up.
Lesser are the actor-driven scenes, still strong if lacking pop. It’s the lack of foreground which costs the 3D depth. Nature always provides one. Homes do not. Some are still striking though, including the awe-inspiring preparation for the Day of the Dead festival in New Mexico. Characters are surrounded by displays and butterflies make their moves in front of the camera.
IMAX’s post-production looping leaves a few dialog lines wildly out of sync, worse than some dubs, but otherwise this audio mix – TrueHD 7.1 or Atmos for those equipped – extends the world of insects. Gentle breezes swell into the surrounds, using every bit of space afforded to the mix. Ambient sounds raise into the rears and stereos.
Those looking for something bombastic shouldn’t be here, although the engines of a tractor running over a Monarch nest creates some intense LFE with a pleasing pan as machinery goes overhead.
A short message from Mexico’s president about the importance of migratory patterns is bonus one. The second is a 28-minute making of, at times an extension of the documentary given its discussion about the Monarchs. Insightful, more so than the image galleries and trailers which follow.
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Flight of the Butterflies
A fine, if brief, documentary on Monarch butterflies and the years of research concerning their migration.
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