Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse Really Basic Instincts

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  You don't have to sit on your front lawn very long to realize there are whole worlds thriving beneath your feet (unless you have one of those chemically purified lawns, in which case you could sit on it all day and not realize anything until the grass started burning holes in your shorts).

But even if you pay attention to the various creatures crawling, buzzing, and hopping around you, you're not likely to get more than a glimpse of the routines that make up their complex daily lives.

That's why Microcosmos (1996, G) is so much fun. The dazzling documentary is a sometimes awesome, sometimes gruesome, and always entertaining close-up view of life as bugs know it. This is no dry nature program--the French filmmakers behind the project find drama under every blade of grass. Whether it's a determined dung beetle trying over and over to push his cargo up the same hill, or two snails joining in a hilariously (but undeniably sensual) slimy embrace, the creepy, crawly beings that trundle across the screen take on real personality. You could accuse the film of anthropomorphism--especially the music, which infuses the scenes with decidedly human emotion--but Microcosmos mostly lets the action speak for itself. And if three ants joining together to move a particularly annoying chunk of rock out of their tunnel look uncannily like three guys hoisting a sofa upstairs, who's to say it's a coincidence?

It's possible no film has ever so completely immersed us in the animal world as Microcosmos, but a few have come close. Jean-Jacques Annaud's nature drama The Bear (1989, PG) tells a convincing adventure story from the viewpoint of a bearcub, with only minimal intrusion by human characters. The cub wanders through mountains in search of its mother, avoiding hunters and having occasional accidents (there's a funny, if far-fetched, sequence involving psychedelic mushrooms). Although the whole thing is fiction, Annaud conveys a real sense of the bear's world.

Less family-friendly is Baxter (1989), a strange French film narrated by a frighteningly beastial bull terrier. The dog lives with a succession of owners, whom he views alternately as his masters and his enemies. The movie, a comedy of sorts, is disturbing in its exploration of the primal drives that guide both Baxter and the humans around him.

—Jesse Fox Mayshark

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