A Reindeer’s Journey (Aïlo: Une odyssée en Laponie)


They don’t get much cuter than baby reindeer.

(2018) Nature Documentary (Screen MediaDonald Sutherland (narrator). Directed by Guillaume Maidatchevsky

 

After viewing the watershed nature documentary March of the Penguins, a colleague of mine opined that what she took out of the film most of all was “it sucks to be a penguin.” Well, when she sees this one she’s going to add reindeer to that list.

Reindeer are native to Lapland, a region above the Arctic Circle straddling Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. The climate is harsh in winter and they have a fair share of predators that cause them difficulties. Climate change has only made the weather worse and worse still, has played havoc with their traditional migration routes – as have loggers who have displaced wolves from their habitat, sending them into places where reindeer once were relatively safe.

This film captures the first year of life for Aȉlo. Donald Sutherland intones that Laplanders have a saying that reindeer get five minutes to learn to stand, five more minutes to learn to walk, then five minutes to learn to run and swim. That’s how dangerous the climate and predator situation is in Lapland.

Like many nature documentaries, Aȉlo is anthropomorphized to a large extent. Sutherland – who does excellent work here, lending much needed gravitas – imbuing him with human qualities and human thought processes. Chances are, Aȉlo and others of his species don’t spend a lot of time ruminating on how tough life is in the Arctic Circle. Most animals function primarily on instinct and experience.

That isn’t to say there aren’t moments that are captivating, such as when Aȉlo mimics a rabbit and later on, a stoat. There’s no doubt that Aȉlo is insanely adorable and kids are going to be absolutely enchanted with him (and a lot of adults too). To add to the plus column, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking – even the scenes of winter are refined with varying shades of white and blue, all filmed in the low light of perpetual Arctic twilight.

To a large extent, this isn’t as educational as it could be although Sutherland does his best. Labeling lemmings the “chicken nuggets of the North” is kind of amusing, but it oversimplifies their place in the food chain. I do give the filmmakers points for not shying away from the effects that climate change is having on these animals.

All in all, this is a solid although not remarkable documentary. Those of you who have children who really love animals and are captivated by the DisneyNature series of documentaries will no doubt find this right in their wheelhouse. The film doesn’t turn away either from the grim reality of life in a harsh environment (reindeer die, although never on-camera). While the movie is making a brief theatrical run in New York City, it is available on VOD on basically every major streaming service and likely a few of the minor ones as well. It also is or will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray just in time for the holidays and makes an awesome stocking stuffer for the animal lover in your family.

REASONS TO SEE: Aȉlo is insanely cute.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fairly standard nature doc.
FAMILY VALUES: This is extremely kid-friendly.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is a French/Finnish co-production.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu,
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frozen Planet
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Shock and Awe

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
You’d better watch out…

(2010) Horror Comedy (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jonathan Hutchings, Peeter Jakobi, Ilmari Jarvenpaa, Rauno Juvonen, Risto Salvi, Jens Sivertsen. Directed by Jalmari Helander

 

Good old Saint Nick! Everyone knows the jolly old elf makes his big appearance every 25th of December, spreading joy around the world and delivering toys to kids who appear on the nice list and coal to those on the naughty list. There are places, however, who don’t have as high an opinion of Santa – they’re downright terrified of him.

In Northern Finland, a team of American scientists are blasting into a large hill in a remote part of the country above the Arctic Circle. The residents of the town nearby have no clue what the Americans are up to – and they could care less. It is the day before Christmas and their concerns are larger; it is time to harvest the reindeer that provides not only their livelihood but their store of food for the winter.

The trouble is that the reindeer are all dead; massacred by something, their carcasses littering the ground outside the fence surrounding the American blast zone. Rauno (Jorma Tommila), a taciturn widower, thinks it might be wolves which are a pest in that part of Finland – he even has dug a wolf trap (which are illegal in Finland). His son Pietari (Onni Tommila) isn’t so sure.

You see, Pietari and his buddy Juuso (Jarvenpaa) made a hole in the fence and snuck in to the blast site and heard a few things they shouldn’t have – as in that the hill that is outside their town is in fact a gigantic burial mound and that the Americans have found something there that was supposed to stay buried…and what they found is very much alive.

The bookish Pietari does some research and discovers that the Santa Clause we all know and love was not always regarded that way in Lapland. In fact, he was used as a kind of boogeyman, kidnapping naughty children and leaving straw dolls in their place. The naughty kids he would boil alive and otherwise torture and kill in inventive ways. Pietari realizes that this demonic child stealer is exactly what the Americans found, but he’s the only one who knows it.

Pietari’s dad doesn’t have time for foolishness. He and some of the town’s men go to confront the Americans but the installation is eerily deserted. And his wolf trap has captured something unexpected. Santa Claus is coming to town boys and girls and you’d better pray you aren’t on his naughty list.

There is a lot going for this film. The northern setting is starkly beautiful and the hardscrabble life of the villagers quite realistic. There is enough comedy here to keep you off-balance – as when Rauno growls at his son to stay back from the wolf trap but as he turns his back, Pietari continues to move forward, almost without thinking in the way that children do when their curiosity outweighs everything else, including sense. It’s not rebellion, it’s just compulsion.

There isn’t a lot of gore here so those who might consider that a horror necessity will be disappointed. Da Queen, who is normally quite squeamish about horror movies found this one palatable and non-nightmare inducing although there are some scenes that might give the sensitive pause.

On the negative side, while the actor who plays Pietari is good, this is another case of a kid who has to save the day from adults who won’t listen to his sage advice. I don’t know about you, but I would consider any advice from a kid wearing cardboard armor and who drags a bedraggled stuffed animal around with him a bit suspect.

Still, the ending was nifty, unexpected and left room for a potential sequel only not in an obvious way. I appreciated the filmmaker’s imagination as well as their willingness to take chances. Not all of them work but most do and make for a very entertaining holiday horror film which is a much better alternative to things like Black Christmas, Santa’s Slay and Silent Night, Deadly Night.

WHY RENT THIS: A wry sense of humor and an inventive take on the Santa legend.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Suffers from the “smart kid saves the day from bumbling adults” syndrome.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of nudity and a bit more foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actors who play Pietari and his father are father and son in real life.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette comparing the original animatics with the finished computer-generated effects as well as a look at the pre-production art which is pretty nifty. There are a couple of short films that Helander directed that takes place in the Rare Exports universe and includes much of the same cast; they should be seen after you’ve watched the main movie. The Blu-Ray also includes the complete feature Santa Claus vs. the Martians which is quite frankly one of the worst movies ever made and whose inclusion here is rather bizarre. Watch it if you dare.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4M on an unreported production budget; there’s a good chance this made money during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill continues!