Friday, April 4, 2014

Island of Lemurs: Madagascar Movie Review

The First Explorers

"The best stories in nature, are the ones that never end," and for over 60 million years lemurs have roamed the Earth, outlasting dinosaurs, pre-dating humans and thriving at survival. These fascinating creatures finally get their day in the sun, courtesy of David Douglas' documentary Island of Lemurs: Madagascar. Sadly, all isn't well in Madagascar; as the lemur's longtime sanctuary is fast disappearing... threatening their very existence. Can Earth's "first explorers" overcome their most dangerous opponent yet... Man?

Lemurs burst onto the scene a long, long time ago; and thrived in an environment with no animals, birds, or predators of any kind. Humans showed up about 2,000 years ago... then the French in 1897, and the rest is history. Deforestation, hunting, etc. ensued; and now most lemurs face the likelihood of extinction in less than a quarter of a century. Terrible, isn't it?

Even worse, when you realize how amazing these "wandering spirits" are. Some leap more than 30 feet, from tree to tree. Others feast on crunchy bamboo, the way I tear into a Roy Rogers hamburger (you have to see both... pretty amazing.) They survive by sticking together, and putting the females in charge... so obviously they're very intelligent. Douglas gets up close & personal (IMAX footage is absolutely incredible) which is good, since no lemur has ever survived in captivity. Unless you plan on traveling there (almost 9,000 miles) this is your only chance to see them (and no, the Madagascar animated franchise doesn't count... although King Julien is adorable.)

Morgan Freeman does a brilliant job of narrating, and the history lesson at the beginning is fascinating. Most of the 40-minute film takes place in the lemurs' habitat; although you still get a glimpse or two of Madagascar the island, including a very cool one-car train that closer resembles a bus going through town.

The last 15 minutes or so isn't nearly as satisfying, once anthropology professor Patricia C. Wright arrives. Her 30+ years of work is amazing; but she pales in comparison to the lemurs themselves, and doesn't exactly ooze charisma. I wanted to see more breathtaking shots of the lemurs going about their everyday activities; but it's important to stress just how much danger they're in.

As Freeman narrates, "(They) arrived as castaways, and their epic adventure has lasted for 60 million years. Fate brought lemurs to Madagascar; but they'll need more than luck to survive much longer." Island of Lemurs: Madagascar is bound to generate lots of buzz and interest in preserving these historical marvels. It's also likely to entertain everyone in your family, especially kids. Catch it (in 3D) at the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX at the National Museum of Natural History: Click here for showtimes.

Grade: B