|Meerkat Manor: The Story begins
A short review of the Meerkat Manor movie based on the premiere screening hosted by Oxford Scientific Films and Animal Planet International at the Curzon Mayfair Cinema, London, UK on April 30th, 2008. Written by Evi of the FKMP.
This review may contain spoilers!
My overall impression: 'Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins' is a heart-touching tribute to Flower, with amazing meerkat, landscape and wildlife footage. It recounts Flower's life, focussing on her young years, until she became dominant - it is indeed a prequel to Meerkat Manor Season 1. Compared to the Meerkat Manor series, it is less of a documentary but rather a biography, yet only follows the major life history facts. Friends of the Kalahari Meerkat Project, or people who have read Tim Clutton-Brock's book "Meerkat Manor: Flower of the Kalahari" won't learn many new facts. But the countless touching, ferocious, sad or simply utterly beautiful detail scenes make it a must-see for each meerkat lover!
Filming: The movie footage was filmed in the past two years, independently from the teams filming the Meerkat Manor series. Quality of footage in the movie is spectacular - partly and most surely due to the large screen (godzilla size meerkats...), but above all the composition of the pictures is just perfect, catching the pure essence of the Kalahari, and the meerkats' actions. Oxford Scientific's experience gained over the years of filming Meerkat Manor clearly shows... New techniques used include colour footage of pups after birth (taken in Cotswolds wildlife park, UK); new not to the wildlife documentary industry, but to Meerkat Manor is also that they engaged bird and snake handlers - there is a wonderful 'eagle flies over the Kalahari' scene in the beginning. Apart from the meerkat action, the movie shows amazing pictures of the Kalahari (Augrabies Falls, Kgalagadi Park, Witsand Nature Reserve, partly taken from a helicopter) and a lot of wildlife - it made me wish I could go back to the Kalahari today!
Narration: Whoopie Goldberg's voice is soothing, calm and often almost masculine, yet with a compassionate touch, and the occasional joke. It fits very well to the atmosphere in the movie.
Storyline: Most of us first met Flower in the Meerkat Manor series when she was an established dominant female of the Whiskers. But now we learn about her young years - from her birth during a summer storm up to the birth of her own pups: famous Shakespeare, Mozart and Tosca. Her youth and ascend to dominance were eventful, yet not untypical for a meerkat female.
Life history: Major milestones in Flower's life are shown, but several of the details differ from the KMP Life History. Furthermore, stand-in meerkats are frequently used, including the occasional pregnant male... Better just to enjoy the movie, than to analyse it - it is a tribute to Flower, not a documentary!
Characters and personalities: The movie paints a rather black-and-white image of the two female leaders: Here is Flower, the caring, wise, valiant heroine, and there is Vialli, the ruthless, greedy, self-centered adversary. However, a meerkat dominant female needs both qualities to be successful, and we all know that Flower had both qualities...
Explicit scenes: The movie not only shows impressive life footage, but several scenes have been actively re-enacted with other meerkats, or meerkat groups. The movie does not repeat The Journey's End, or Flower's death; however, dying Petal and Holly, as well as Vialli's death on the main road are shown in staged scenes. The credits explicitly mention that some scenes have been re-enacted, but also that no animals have been harmed during the making of this film. Mating scenes are shown; the most impressing, yet ferocious, scenes however are the group encounters with Lazuli - awesome footage!
Conclusion: Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins is a must-see for anyone who likes meerkats, for anyone who loves Flower - but also astonishing nature movies!
'Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins' had its world premiere at the Tribeca film festival on April, 25th, and its UK premiere on April 30th, 2008. TV premiere on Animal Planet (US) is on Sunday, May 25th @ 8pm EST and repeated on May 30th. Please check your local listings for channel times in your cable area.
The DVD will be available after June 3rd, 2008 from Amazon and other retailers.