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Bugs! This Imax 3D documentary is so cleverly done that it grips us like a narrative feature, taking us deep into the rainforest of Borneo where we see the world from a bug's eye view. And this is a real film, not animation! Its genius is the way it makes two of the principle critters into characters. Papilio is a tiny caterpillar we watch chewing her way out of her egg, then munching on the jungle, avoiding predators and eventually turning into a butterfly, mating and laying eggs of her own. Hierodula is a praying mantis, born with hundreds of siblings then embarking on a life of hunting other insects for food, avoiding peril and finding a mate (a dangerous occupation for mantids!). All around them the jungle teems with life, as we meet other "characters" including a pair of dueling rhinoceros beetles, a fierce katydid, a branch full of thorn bugs and several leafcutter ants, along with predators ranging from spiders and scorpions to lizards and bats.

Dench's narration is full of witty description and dry humour, giving the bugs personality so we can identify with them, but never humanizing them. This is a sprawling alien world to us, even though we see familiar behaviour such as Hierodula's cat-like grooming, an ant playfully drinking from a raindrop, and a female rhino beetle apparently cheering on her champion. And there's plenty of suspense and violence as the food chain is vividly portrayed. The filmmaking is staggering, getting so close to the bugs that we flinch back, thinking we see a reflection of ourselves in their hungry eyes. And of course the 3D is playfully used to drop all kinds of creepy crawlies right in our faces. There are also some subtle effects, as well as the use of footage shot in a British soundstage and seamlessly edited in to the jungle. Not only is this exciting and involving, but it gives us an astonishingly intimate glimpse of this tiny kingdom. And it'll make you think again next time you swat a fly.

no cert insect violence and sex 15.Jun.03

dir Mike Slee
scr Mike Slee, Abby Aron
narrator Judi Dench
release US 12.Mar.03; UK 3.Oct.03
03/UK 40m

Tasty morsel: Heirodula stalks an unsuspecting fly.

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send your review to Shadows... Bugs! Lawrence Kaufman, Southern California: 4 out of 5 stars "This is an amazing large format stereoscopic film. It has an entertaining story, great cinematography and it is a joy to watch. Like Space Station, it will likely continue to open and play in large format 3-D theaters for years to come. Bugs! will startle and enthrall audiences of all ages as it uncovers surprising sophistication at the foundation of the food chain."
2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall