The short documentary Island of Lemurs: Madagascar makes splendid use of Morgan Freeman who adds gravitas to this 39 minute 3D and IMAX gem. Ever since 2005 when the, then, 68 year-old actor narrated the award-winning feature length documentary March of the Penguins, Freeman has been lending his voice to other fact-based films.
Of course the Oscar winning actor has narrated other projects apart from documentary films, the performer narrated The Shawshank Redemption, War of the Worlds, The Bucket List, The Love Guru and the Conan the Barbarian remake, to name but a few. Since 2010, Freeman has also hosted/narrated the Science network’s documentary series Through the Wormhole.
It is this participation with film projects that are less fanciful than major Hollywood movies that has, perhaps, added that nth degree of somberness associated with this powerhouse actor’s name. As referenced by actor Tony Todd in an interview at the Star Trek Las Vegas 2014 convention, Morgan himself has stated that he has reached that pinnacle in his career where he can pretty much “be himself,” work two or three days on a project and get “second billing.”
This career apex is due in no small measure to that gravitas which Morgan Freeman adds to any project. Whether it be a short 39 minute documentary about the Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, or playing God in a Jim Carrey or Steve Carell vehicle.
In his latest documentary venture, Freeman narrates this Warner Bros project which could well be a labor of love for someone on the filmmaking staff. Directed by David Douglas, who can only be described as a documentary aficionado with around 30 fact-based projects to his name the movie looks spectacular. Looking at his credentials it is not hard to see why.
Films like At the Max and Fires of Kuwait, to name but two, have this man’s name attached either as director, or cinematographer, or writer, or a combination of the three. “Lemurs” is written by Drew Fuller who may not have as long a list of achievements in the documentary field as Douglas, but he has nonetheless, focussed on this genre or category of film.
The movie stars, Patricia Wright who is a primatologist who has made the subject of the film her life’s work. She became so enamoured with the Lemurs that she went back to school to become qualified in primatology. It is this woman who pushed the government in Madagascar to establish, in 1991, the Ranomafana National Park, rainforest in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Wright does a certain amount of “narrating” as she recounts her visits to the island and her fascination/work with the lemur. She also explains the hunt for mates for a father and daughter pair of lemur species who are in danger of becoming extinct.
Hantanirina Rasamimanana is another supporter who works to help the lemurs to survive the islands transition from lush forest woodlands to cleared farmlands which cater to cattle versus the lemur population. She also lends her voice to the proceedings.
The film itself tells the story of how Lemurs migrated, pretty much unwillingly, around the time that the dinosaurs were killed out. These furry animals are leftovers from that period of history and it is their unplanned trip to Madagascar which enabled them to survive as a species.
These creatures, who have managed to stick around for millions of years, are now in danger of becoming as extinct as their old pals the dinosaurs. This beautiful documentary is an attempt to inform the world of this lovely and fascinating creature’s imminent demise if things do not change.
What will be interesting to see, is how the film will fare when it opens properly. At 39 minutes, the feature is certainly not long enough to run “on its own.” Considering that these sort of films, i.e. IMAX/3D cost around $17 to view, this specialty movie with a message may well die a dismal death. Mainly because of the amount of hard-earned cash parents will have to fork out for their little ones to watch the film.
Despite being beautifully shot and executed, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar is too short to stand on its own and possibly too long to add as filler to another feature film a’ la Disney/Pixar. It could well be that Warner Bros is planning on doing a child-friendly film in the near future that could use this delightful documentary as an intro to the main feature. As of right now, it seems neither fish nor fowl, with little prospect of making any real money from ticket sales.
Shot in IMAX and in 3D, apparently money was no object in the making of this short documentary. Add to this specialty mix the soothing and calming voice of gravitas, Morgan Freeman, along with the beautiful cinematography and spectacular shots of the lemurs going about their day-to-day activities it is not surprising that this film kept an entire audience of small children transfixed. At the screening not one youngster was fidgeting, talking, or being told off for misbehaving. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. Island of Lemurs: Madagascar opens on August 22 in cinemas countrywide. In a nutshell, the film is brilliant but short and parents may balk at paying such a high ticket price.
By Michael Smith