Blu-ray Review: Seasons

STUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
RELEASE DATE: Feb. 21, 2017 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $24.95
BONUSES: making-of documentary, featurettes, panel discussion, galleries
SPECS: PG | 95 min. | Documentary | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 |  French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

Few titles in the world of cinema suffer from the stigma of utter dullness as much as the phrase nature documentary does and yet, with the vast leaps forward in camera technology, modern filmmakers have slowly managed to turn this dry genre into a vibrant world full of vivid tales of survival, as evidenced by such films as Microcosmos and March of the Penguins. In a world where humans remain vastly out of touch with their environment, this new wave of nature films serves to not only entertain us with untold dramas of the wild, but also remind us that the lives of plants, wild beasts and humans are actually quite similar.

The filmmaking duo of Jacques Perrin & Jacques Cluzaud are tops in this field, having managed to tell great tales of fish and birds with Oceans and Winged Migration, respectively; they now turn their keen eyes onto land with Seasons, a film that blends documentary and reenactment to produce a philosophical essay that goes beyond merely documenting animal life.

The conceit of Seasons is simple—we begin with planet Earth just after the Ice Age, when the temperature started warming, animals began migrating, and forests flourished. The story peppers minimal French narration around the most amazing images of this planet’s four-legged inhabitants going about their daily lives. While the film takes us through man’s arrival and into his inevitable disturbance of our ecosystem’s delicate balance, there are long patches of un-narrated, fly-on-the-wall documentary detailing the forest’s cycle of life—one that has remained vastly unchanged for thousands of years. Wide shots, close-ups and POV shots from inside animals’ dens and burrows all make Seasons a dynamic and intimate look at a world we never get to see—and that’s the real delight of the film. The editing is tight and modern, giving us a movie that is more show than tell, unlike those nature films of ‘yore that depended on David Attenborough to let us know what was going on. Many of the sequences in here, such as a wild boar being chased (and eventually devoured) by wolves are visceral and self-explanatory. They leave you wondering how, exactly, the filmmakers were ever able to orchestrate and capture such unpredictable spectacles of nature.

The two Jacques claim to use the process of assimilation in their films, slowly gaining the animals’ trust until the creatures treat the cameras and crew as just another aspect of the landscape. It clearly works, since the result is absolutely amazing. This is doubly true when you watch Seasons in crystal-clear HD, as the Music Box Films’ Blu-Ray edition proves. The rich images pop, showing off the deft camerawork and direction that took years to put together. As the story enters the modern era, recreations of war and shots of other human atrocities such as deforestation underscore a narration that begins to feel more than a little didactic, giving this stunning film a slightly underwhelming ending. Given the dire situation we find ourselves in today, however, it’s a minor, and quite forgivable, faux pas.

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.