Microcosmos (1996)

Genres - Nature  |   Sub-Genres - Biological Sciences  |   Run Time - 72 min.  |   Countries - Switzerland, France, Italy  |   MPAA Rating - G
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Microcosmos is light years beyond mere insect documentary, envisioning the daily existence of these tiny creatures as the stuff of full-blown opera. The unprecedented close-ups transform the mundane into the epic; the audience practically cheers after a scarab beetle succeeds at pushing his ball of dung up a hill, and swoons watching two snails entwined in a loving embrace. The augmentation of sounds also has visceral impact, as a pheasant picks off ants with the repetitive boom of a staple gun striking the earth. Intensifying this visual and aural odyssey is a gripping score, as well as narration (by Kristin Scott Thomas in the English version) that's both refreshingly scant and elegantly poetic. Because they mean this as breathtaking visual stimulus rather than teaching tool, directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou don't need to clog up the wonder with needless exposition. That raindrops are like traumatic bomb strikes to these tiny creatures is obvious; no disembodied egghead needs to spell things out. The viewer will simply gape at the grand dramas that unfold, prompting them to wonder just how many hours of footage the directors shot before mounting this compilation of elegiac moments. It's a truly groundbreaking technical achievement. Since it doesn't take much to get them interested in creepy-crawlies to begin with, children should love Microcosmos, even if its ambitions are artsier than they can comprehend.