Critters get their close-ups in ‘Genesis’

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 14, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If you saw a 1996 movie called “Microcosmos,” you certainly remember it. A pair of French filmmakers, armed with special camera equipment, entered the realm of the world’s tiny things – bugs, mostly – and photographed them being tiny.

It was fascinating. Now, directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou return to nature, this time moving just slightly up the food chain.

The film is “Genesis.” It begins with an African storyteller describing, in terms both humble and grand, the beginnings of everything. He muses on the possibility that all of us might contain cosmic particles that were part of the creation of the universe, little bits of matter millions of years old. (No wonder I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning.)

The man’s gentle depiction of evolution gives the filmmakers an excuse to illustrate the idea. Which becomes an excuse for amazing footage of some extremely comical creatures.

The film’s first star is a mudskipper that deftly demonstrates the process by which a swimming thing got curious and flopped up onto terra firma one day. The smooshed-together eyes on top of his head no doubt give him an advantage when it comes to imagining a world above the waterline.

The ritual of courtship is enacted by some amazing-looking crabs, which have alarming little eyes jutting straight up and one giant claw waving around. The males use the claw to fend off rival suitors. This results in one crab getting flicked away by a really strong-clawed alpha male, at which point female and victorious male retire into a mudhole. The male discreetly pulls a clod of mud behind them to cover the opening, which struck me as one of the funniest things I’d ever seen: If this mudhole’s a-rockin’, don’t bother knockin’.

Creatures eat other creatures, which is how the whole planet keeps going, of course. We watch as an ugly fish dangles a pom-pom from his forehead, which attracts unsuspecting, transparent smaller fish. The system works perfectly – that is, from the perspective of the bigger fish.

A snake swallowing an egg becomes a tour-de-force sequence. How a snake gets its mouth around the egg is one thing, but what happens to the egg after it’s inside the snake is truly ingenious.

At times “Genesis” seems to include animals just for the sake of weirdness, rather than fitting a main theme. There’s a randomness to its structure, despite the philosophical connecting comments by the narrator.

Filming took place mostly in the Galapagos Islands, Madagascar, and Polynesia. Nuridsany and Perennou are obviously patient people, but here’s hoping eight years don’t pass before their next movie comes our way.

Fascinating creatures and a storyteller narrator highlight “Genesis.”

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