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BMZ Review: Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance
By Herb Lash


Written by: Herb Lash
Source: Big Movie Zone
Date: July 2001


Category: Reviews

The Pulitzer Prize winning naturalist Edmund O. Wilson made a life time study of ants in an effort to better understand the human species. Mr. Wilson was once asked what he thought the best course of action is when ants invade our homes. He replied, in earnest, that homeowners should be careful where they step and maybe leave a little sugar water out for the amazing visitors. Ants are probably more often stomped on the playground than they are welcomed into our homes, but Mr. Wilson's generous example serves as a reminder that our planet exists as a single home shared by many. This thoughtful approach to biodiversity is the same sort of spirit that informs the thoroughly enjoyable Big Movie, Lost Worlds - Life in The Balance.

Why did the Mayans abandon the once mighty city of Tikal and leave it to be reclaimed by the lush rainforest?  Lost Worlds opens with the provocative suggestion that the answer has something to do with the way a family in Manhattan runs water in their sink. Few of us give thanks or even thought to how drinking water comes bubbling out of our tap. A slick computer graphics roller coaster ride up the faucet, through the pipes, beneath the city and out to the Catskill Mountains provides a vivid reminder that clean water doesn't begin and end with the crank of a handle. And how does soil keep mountain lake water clean? And what living things keep the soil healthy? The questions never end because the whole is a web of living support systems.  Mindlessly running the water, stomping ants and breaking up the ozone layer are symptoms of a failure to recognize that life is a delicate balancing act. The Mayans had the luxury of moving on to greener pastures when they used up their land.  Lost Worlds goes a long way toward making the powerful point that we live in an era where there are no more "greener pastures" - it's all one pasture from  Manhattan the remote Table Mountains of Venezuela.

The documentary employs a globe trotting style and visits several different species in telling the story - but the heart of the film involves a frog researcher's journey to the nearly inaccessible top of Venezuela's Mount Roriama in the fabled Table Mountains. Towering mountains, vast deserts, thick rainforests, wide rivers and sprawling ocean floors always look good on the giant screen and have become part of the standard Large Format vocabulary for nature documentaries. But it has become difficult to frame one of these pectacular vistas in a way that truly startles. Lost Worlds manages its first jaw dropper about halfway through the film.  We catch up with our frog researcher for "the getting there" part of her journey. The gargantuan Table Mountains rise out of the mist - but a surreal sense of scale intrudes as a miniscule helicopter floats in the  foreground. Like most great images, it is difficult to  escribe the shock delivered by this seemingly simple scene.

Our amiable researchers set up camp on the spooky moonscape top of Mount Roriama. We see what they see and hear what they hear. The conditions are extreme, yet life adapts and life thrives. Carnivorous plants do their thing, an unknown singing creature sings and remains unseen and a previously undiscovered black toad gets around by somersaulting.  There are no Spielberg dinosaurs discovered in this particular Lost World, in fact, no single great thing really happens during the Mount Roriama expedition.  But this serves to underscore the main theme of this well written and skillfully crafted film.  Single events and single lives are less important than the diverse, balanced and living whole.

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When we protect nature, we protect ourselves by Ross Anthony

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