REVIEW BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
Despite what you might reasonably suspect, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” should not be confused with “Madagascar” or any of its sequels. So … don’t expect to see animated sequences or the anthropomorphized animal characters voiced by the likes of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, or Sacha Baron Cohen. Instead, the film provides an educational documentary short with euphonious narration provided by the one and only Morgan Freeman.
Lemurs are our fellow primates. They originated on the continent of Africa, approximately 70 million years ago. That is back in the Mesozoic Era, when dinosaurs dominated the planet. Thus, lemurs have a history far longer than humans or any of our fellow anthropoid primates.
Lemurs established a unique evolutionary niche. While they had existed with dinosaurs, they somehow survived the asteroids that the film suggests caused the extinction of their reptile co-habitants.
Here’s where things get interesting. According to the film, some lemurs were swept away on tree rafts created by a rampaging storm, all the way to Madagascar. This is the fourth largest island in the world and is situated off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean.
Since the island of Madagascar split off from the Indian sub-continent approximately 90 million years ago, flora and fauna evolved in virtual isolation. This made it a biodiversity hotspot. Over 90 percent of the indigenous wildlife is found nowhere else on the planet. This includes lemurs, whose African ancestors became extinct.
Meanwhile, since lemurs had no natural predators in Madagascar, they flourished on their island paradise. Some even evolved to the size of gorillas. According to the film, humans arrived on Madagascar 2,000 years ago, making it one of the last places on the planet reached by our species. The arrival of humans has lemurs threatened the continued existence of lemurs.
Director, David Douglas, acted as his own cinematographer. He is steeped in the IMAX nature film genre. His credits as helmsman include the documentary shorts, “Straight Up: Heliocopers in Action” and “Wolves.” Here, Douglas has used a cutting-edge lightweight camera to capture the first aerial footage ever shot in IMAX 3D. Previously, it has been converted in post-production. The result is plenty of stunning footage.
With their large, round, unblinking eyes, the lemurs are highly photogenic subjects. We see mouse lemurs, ring-tailed lemurs, indri lemurs, bamboo lemurs, and plenty of other varieties. They display extraordinary acrobatics as they sail through the arboreal canopy from treetop to treetop. Lemurs do so with seeming ease as if they are free from the laws of gravity. We also see them engaged in less dramatic activities like devouring bamboo trees, their favorite repast. The film also depicts lemurs as they sleep, huddled together on a rocky surface, locked into a single, seemingly affectionate, aggregate.
“Island of Lemurs: Madagacar” is not content to merely show off the antics of these creatures. Without becoming unduly doctrinaire, it paints a compelling picture of the tenuous status of lemurs. Since the arrival of humans, over 90% of Madagascar’s forests have been burnt down for grazing and farming. As a consequence, the natural milieu of the lemur has been substantially wiped out. Much of the film is devoted to discussing the work of primatologist, Dr. Patricia Wright. She has devoted her life to protecting the dwindling population of lemurs. Her efforts led to the establishment of Ranomafana National Park, where lemurs are protected.
“Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” is a family-friendly film in terms of both content and tone. Some may balk at the prospect of paying a feature film price tag for a vehicle with such a truncated running time. Putting this pecuniary issue aside, the immersive, visual aspects of “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” makes it ideally suited for the IMAX platform. It combines visually engaging footage with an important status report on an endangered species.
“Island of Lemurs: Madagascar”: ***1/2 G 40 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.