2003, Movie, G, 40 mins


In this large-format 3-D documentary about bugs, specifically the life cycles of a butterfly Papilio Memnon) and a mantis (hierodula membranacea), super-sized critters worthy of a 1950s horror movie roam the Southeast Asian rainforest. Cheekily narrated by Dame Judi Dench and slicked up with genre-style music — cue the noirish jazz when Dench alludes to "these green streets" — this otherwise sober film's high ick factor is clearly designed to convince restless students that entomology is extremely cool. The butterfly is hatched, alone and defenseless, on a citrus leaf and gradually eats its way from hungry, hungry caterpillar to death-like pupa before metamorphosing into nature's fluttering Ziegfield girl. The mantis rappels out of an egg case alongside hundreds of siblings, all perfectly formed miniatures of their predatory adult selves, and between hunting expeditions spends hours grooming its spiny but oddly fascinating appendages. Their multi-legged paths eventually cross with unfortunate results for the butterfly, though Dame Judi chirps that the journey wasn't for naught: The butterfly fulfilled her evolutionary mission, breeding before the mantis gobbled her up and spat out the wings. Oh, the humanity! Along the way we see rhinoceros beetles grappling like sumo wrestlers, thorn bugs that resemble modified armored vehicles straight out of a MAD MAX film, ladybug larvae like bits of living dandelion fluff and the inevitable industrious ants going about their busy business. More scientifically rigorous but less aesthetically enthralling than Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou's MICROCOSMOS (1996), the film's real draw is the oversized 3-D format, which makes mountains of anthills and finds a whole world in a few square feet of foliage. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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