“The flamingo is said to be the inspiration for the crimson-winged Phoenix, the ancient symbol of transformation and rebirth. At the end of its life, the Phoenix is consumed by fire. It is then reborn from the ashes.”
In one of the more specific full-length documentary features that I’ve seen in a long time comes Disney Nature’s The Crimson Wing. Here the focus is on one species of bird. This is your all-flamingos all-the-time station. Have you ever thought to yourself, “You know, I just can’t get enough flamingos”? Look no farther.
“Once upon a time, in the heart of Africa there was a lake of fire. The lake’s water burned with color, scarlet and crimson, and, in its stillness, held Heaven’s reflection. After months without rain, there came a season of drought. And the lake dried and turned white as ash. But in the desolation came the promise of another season. A season of color and life, a season of beginning.”
While my own state of Florida is readily recognized by the pink flamingo symbols, this feature takes us quite a distance from those Sunshine State coastlines. It is in the heart of Africa that our story takes place. More specifically, it is Lake Natron in Tanzania. Here millions of flamingos flock for just a brief moment in the year to coincide with a flicker of life in an otherwise barren part of the world. This lake has one of the highest salt levels of any body of water on Earth. The salinity is so high that there is little life to be found here. The lake isn’t teeming with fish or other common aquatic animals. In fact, for most of the year there is no life here at all. The lake is quite shallow. For a good part of the year it dries up almost completely. The heat is so intense that the salt at the surface begins to solidify as if it were a large sheet of ice. These sheets of salt converge in the middle of the lake, creating a massive temporary island of salt. It is here that flamingos fly for as much as a thousand miles to make their nests. The lake provides a nutritious algae species that turns the birds, which are white when they arrive, into the pink creatures we’re used to seeing. They come here to feast on the algae, mate, and rear their young. Then they return to their own grounds, compelled to return again in another year.
Everything you ever wanted to know about this particular species of flamingo can be found right here. Their entire stay at Lake Natron consists of their own life cycle. There are plenty of mating dances. They build their nests in the caustic salt, where the little birds will poke out from their eggs in full high-definition detail. This film is certainly a bird-lovers paradise. The filmmakers literally spent a year observing the birds and the life cycle of the lake itself. The fruit of their dedication is obvious, if a little much for most of us.
The Crimson Wing is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of almost 40 mbps. There is no denying how impressive these birds can look. I don’t think I’ve ever seen flamingo footage in this incredible detail. The color is simply magnificent. This image presentation captures them in all of their glory. When these guys turn pink, they really turn pink. From their feathers to their eyes, they take on an almost made-up looking bright coat of crimson paint. The picture is absolutely the thing here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does offer pretty much a narration with a lot of bird noises. This isn’t going to knock your socks off or anything. It’s the picture you’ll be thinking about anyway. The audio merely allows that extra touch to suck you completely into the presentation as a whole.
Lake Natron Diaries: (19:42) See what it was like for the film crew as they spent a year of their lives immersed in this environment.
DVD and digital copy
It’s a bit difficult to do an 80-minute feature on just one creature. Certainly, the flamingo is a beautiful and fascinating bird, but there are just too many moments that appear to be stretched beyond the limits of our patience or endurance. I loved a lot of this, but there are just too many long silent moments where we’re left to merely admire the birds. Maybe this would work better as one of those living screensavers that folks buy to turn their monitor into a painting slideshow or aquarium. Oh, and about that title? “The Latin name for flamingo means crimson wing.”