Yesterday could well have been the hottest day Seattle will see this summer: 97°F.
Consider now how I spent that hot evening: sitting in an air conditioned theater watching a movie about polar bears and shrinking ice fields. The irony is thick enough to walk across.
I snagged a pair of the UW's Program on the Environment's free passes to an early screening of Arctic Tale, so took a little break from labwork to treat my wife to a nature movie. The bottom line is that this film has amazing cinematography, colloquial narration and a message: the earth is warming, the ice is shrinking, arctic wildlife is in peril.
Two summers ago, America's hearts belonged to a pair of emperor penguins. Morgan Freeman introduced these birds' mysterious life cycle in an anthropomorphized account of the power of family. Never mind that the penguins spend much of their time in same-sex arrangements... This time, Queen Latifah has the task of telling the coming-of-age account of Nanu the polar bear and Seela the walrus.
Let's start with the pictures in this film - they are its best attribute. Who out there has seen footage of underwater walrus courtship? Cameos from pods of narwhals under the ice scrappy foxes and several species of bird keep the animal diversity quotient high. And everybody loves polar bears, right? Kids will like that the film's stars are just kids themselves, and adults will appreciate the beauty of the white landscapes. In a nod to the families with small children, when the bears catch prey, the most gruesome parts are kept off the big screen. The cinematic innovations, including polar shark cages and adaptations for the sub-zero temperatures made by director Adam Ravetch pay off big time. I was sad when Seela and Nanu had their own daughters, because that meant the nature eye-candy was running out.
More than in March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale integrates the urgent message of the negative human impact on the arctic climate. That Al Gore's daughter contributed to the script could have something to do with this. Everyone will catch the not-so-subtle message that these arctic mammals' ways of life are in serious trouble because humans use the wrong lightbulbs and don't carpool. You know the 'ice is melting' message will show up sometime, and part of the film's suspense lies in waiting for it. Anthropomorphizing the cubs' adventures may not be the only way to get climate change on the big screen (Don't forget about The Day After Tomorrow's Inconvenient Truth!), but it may be the best way to connect with kids and families. Some people might complain about Queen Latifah's cutesy descriptions of the animals' escapades. Corny is my style, so I'll let the others complain.
One element of the film that I appreciated is that the directors did not feel the need to balance time between the male and female 'characters.' With walruses and polar bears, the moms do the parenting. I learned that a walrus sow teams with an older female in the herd family unit to assure offspring survival. While Queen Latifah calls that partner "Auntie," it is unclear how close in relation the parents are. Here's an echo from Penguins: maybe same sex parents confer increased fitness in a population. Males make appearances as potential agents of infanticide and food hoarders and then have a short stint as boyfriends. Sounds about right. In the end, this is a story about preparing young for a challenging future. Seela and Nanu succeed, but what about our children?
Although some accounts of release date vary, I think Arctic Tale is set to debut in selected theaters July 25, with a wide release planned for August 17. A website, http://www.arctictalemovie.com/ has a trailer, but it takes a while to load, even with a fast connection. If you have time, stick around for the credits - I learned some new ways to decrease my carbon footprint. And if you are really patient, look for the message after the production company's mastheads. (Where the 'no animals were harmed' message usually is.)