Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany & Marie Pérennou)

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

Microcosmos is the best microscope a kid (or former kid) ever had; everybody who's ever spent a long summer afternoon exploring the local six-legged fauna (and I have to assume that that's just about everybody on the planet) will get a kick out of it. Not unlike the trio of films made by Godfrey Reggio and/or Ron Fricke -- Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Baraka -- it eschews context-setting narration and titles (apart from a brief and unnecessary introduction and conclusion, spoken by Kristin Scott Thomas, which I'm guessing Miramax demanded), choosing instead to simply plunge the viewer without warning into its bizarre and beautiful landscape. SEE! a multitude of insects hang on for dear life as raindrops as big as they are batter the leaves to which they're clinging! WATCH! with awe as a pheasant treats an ant colony the way Godzilla generally treats Tokyo! GAPE! as two snails do the nasty before your very eyes! Using specially-designed cameras, Nuridsany and Pérennou photograph the insect world with such clarity that it becomes unreal, fantastic; many of the creatures on display here look as though they were created by Rob Bottin or Stan Winston. Speaking of which, my one complaint is that the directors sometimes try a bit too hard to create narrative "events" for us, which leads to skepticism about whether what we're seeing "really happened." An ant accidentally drops a clod of dirt into the hole it's digging, and the film cuts immediately to a dirt clod falling on the head of another ant inside a hole -- did they have two cameras running simultaneously within and without, or was this moment "staged" for our benefit? Perhaps the former, but to leave such questions unanswered is to ask for trouble; I occasionally found myself resisting the film, because I couldn't be sure that what I was seeing was real (and if it isn't, then all the magic is gone). A few lingering doubts aside, though, Microcosmos is a fascinating, eerie, and almost literally unbelievable movie; it puts most recent special-effects extravaganzas to shame. Take a child with you, if you know one. They'll dig it.