Not too surprisingly, this superlative feature includes a cast and filmmakers who provide it with a top-notch pedigree.
“Flight of the Butterflies” is one of the more dramatic 3-D offerings I’ve seen. I love the way it dramatizes the life of the scientist who was determined to figure out where monarch butterflies migrate and juxtaposes his life with the cycles of three generations of butterflies.
Directed by Mike Slee, who also helmed “Bugs! A Rainforest Adventure,” this film focuses on broad expanses of land as well as the tiniest details of a monarch in a way that will move and fascinate viewers of all ages.
Naturalist Fred Urquhart (played by Gordon Pinsent, whom you may recognize as Julie Christie’s husband in “Away From Her”) and his wife Norah (Patricia Phillips, “Jack Be Nimble”) were real scientists who devoted their lives to studying the monarch butterfly. Specifically, the Canadian couple wanted to track the migration of these gorgeous insects, particularly to determine where the butterflies spend the winter.
We meet Fred as a boy who is fascinated with the butterflies and watch as he grows into a man who eventually marries a fellow scientist. They make the study of the creatures his life’s work.
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The single butterfly, in the meantime, is followed in its search for milkweed, where it lays its eggs. Its offspring complete the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, which we see in glorious close-up. (Some of these amazing images were captured by Peter Parks, who was part of the filmmaking team of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.”) We also watch as the beautiful insects migrate, and we learn how fragile they are: Only about 1 percent survive the journey.
As Fred ages, he carefully keeps track of butterflies that have been noted by “citizen scientists” and enlists the aid of a young couple to help him in his quest to document the insects’ travels.
You won’t see anything prettier than this on the big screen. It’s beautiful, and the film’s score enhances the almost-ethereal delicacy of the monarchs. Many of the scenes, particularly of great masses of butterflies, are astonishing and will leave you filled with wonder about the accomplishments of these filmmakers.
The drama of the Urquharts’ determination, and the historic moment when what they are seeking appears before them, is as compelling as any sequence you’ll see in a Hollywood movie.