Observations of a Nerd

On November 7th, National Geographic Channel airs the first of a seven-hour spectacle called Great Migrations. The series takes us on the paths of the world’s most epic wanderers, from the small and delicate butterflies which travel thousands of miles from Mexico to Canada and back again to the yearly gauntlet of the massive herds of Africa. Here’s the trailer:

Having gotten a sneak peak at the upcoming series, I can say with 100% certainty that has outdone my highest expectations, and, I believe, will be seen as one of the best nature mini-series of the year. In the new tradition of wildlife documentaries, Great Migrations is a visual feast, on par with Planet Earth and Life. Alec Baldwin is a captivating narrator (effortlessly showing up Oprah, though still a step below David Attenborough), and does justice to the incredible images captured by the elite team of National Geographic videographers. Anyone with an interest in our natural world will love this series.

i-6686233e1d5361cfe8ed9ec47fcc0654-GreatMigrationsWildebeests-thumb-250x166-56766.jpgOf the seven hours, four are your classic wildlife special, with amazing and unique footage of animals both large and small that migrate great distances during their lives. There’s an animal for everyone – invertebrates and vertebrates, marine and terrestrial species, all of which migrate from and to locations around the globe. Some of the tales are heartbreaking, others, inspiring, and through it all you truly connect with the animals on a deeper level, feeling empathy for their pain and awe at their perseverance.

i-b211c4dc0dafd07397db24eeedf2d4c7-greatmigrationsbehindthescience-thumb-200x127-56769.jpegThe remaining three hours, however, are very different. Great Migrations: Behind the Scenes covers how the series was made, looking behind the scenes at the people who videotaped the animals in action. Great Migrations: Rhythm of Life takes a refreshing, artistic approach to presenting the wildlife, removing the voice over component and replacing it with music. And last, but not least, is an hour exploring the scientists that study migrations, titled Science Of Great Migrations.

It took the Great Migrations team two and a half years in the field, travelling 420,000 miles across 20 countries on all seven continents to capture the stories of the word’s migrants. Their story is chronicled all on its own, in Great Migrations: Behind the Scenes, giving us insight into just how hard it is to capture the beautiful images effortlessly strung together in the series. If you want to know more, check out the website, which has interviews and diaries from the crew. But while the four incredible hours of field footage are stunning, taking us on a physical and emotional journey following the footsteps of these species on the move, and the hour of images to music without a single word is beautiful, my favorite hour was the in-depth special on the scientific study of migrations.

Image: Tagging butterfly.jpegScience of Great Migrations provides unique insight into how scientists study the large-scale movements of animals when they can’t be tracked by foot. This unique scientific perspective truly sets this series apart from the other large-scale wildlife documentaries. As you might expect, high-tech tagging is the main scientific tool. This special brings to life the history of the high-tech tags being used right now to track animals like elephant seals and monarch butterflies, and the stories of the scientists who design and use them. Whether it be being chased by a several thousand pound seal while attempting to anesthetize it or facing lions while tracking the predators of migrating herds, migration scientists risk everything trying to understand how animals navigate about the planet in the attempt not only to gain knowledge but to protect these amazing animals from their biggest threat – us.

Great Migrations is in a class by itself for approaching its subject not only with the intent to wow audiences visually but also intellectually and artistically, and despite the lofty goals, Great Migrations succeeds brilliantly.

But don’t take my word on it. Great Migrations premiers Sunday, November 7th at 8PM EST/PST. See the spectacle for yourself, and see what I mean.


  1. #1 Coturnix
    October 18, 2010

    Awesome! I got the DVDs but did not have time yet to watch. May try tonight…

  2. #2 Jason
    October 18, 2010

    Looks like I’ll have to get the DVD set – it is amazing to learn about the reasons for migrations and the sheer scale of it all.

    It makes our family’s organised trip to a zoo look completely unorganised in comparison!

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