Wild Safari: A South African Adventure

2005, Movie, NR, 45 mins


Ben Stassen's large-format, 3-D film is a 3000-mile ramble through South Africa's major wildlife preserves — Addo/Shamwari, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, Madikwe, Kgalagadi and Kruger National Park — in search of elephants, water buffalo, leopards, rhinoceros and lions. The "Big Five," as they're dubbed, are the continent's largest and most dangerous wildlife and the visual conceit — that the viewer is riding in the back seat of a Jeep driven by zoologist and professional field guide Liesl Eichenberger and a rotating cast of local trackers — gives the film the air of a theme-park ride. But it's also a reminder that seeing animals in the wild isn't like watching nature films that compress months of footage into a couple of hours, creating the impression that the Kalahari is nature's Times Square, teeming with animals 24 hours a day. Voice-over narration provides bare-bones facts and figures about the eating, mating and social habits of various beasts (giraffes, zebras, hyenas and kudu manage to steal a little screen time from the stars), as well as alarming statistics about the declining populations of large wildlife in Africa and throughout the world. It's informative as far as it goes, but the film's raison d'etre is the simple sight of large wildlife up close and personal, and it's mesmerizing. It's hard to imagine not being awed by the spectacle of nature's monumental variety and perhaps moved to try to ensure the survival of its endangered giants, presumably one of the film's aims. Dusty lions loll around with their bellies in the air like house cats, and muddy water buffalo stand around chewing sullenly while busy little birds pick bugs off their hides. Elephants flap their ears and coil their trunks, which look alarming like snakes at close range, while rhinoceros use their wide, squared-off lips to graze like living lawn mowers. Footage of a giraffe drinking at a water hole, a discordant symphony of grace and gawkiness, is eye-opening. There's a minimum of anthropomorphizing and Eichenberger's running commentary gives a low-key sense of the dangers and challenges inherent in wandering around the bush, desert and grassland in search of animals that don't necessarily want to be stared at by chattering apes in cars. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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