Africa's Elephant Kingdom

on May 08, 1998 by Pat Kramer
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Heartwarming, beautifully-filmed and thoroughly researched, "Africa's Elephant Kingdom," Discovery Channel Pictures' first large-format film, is one that stimulates the senses: Full of action, romance and touching expressions of emotion by its animal subjects, this IMAX film follows a herd of elephants through Kenya's national parks during a six month migration marked by lush feeding grounds, mating rituals, birth, death and day-to-day survival.
Filming the herd from a helicopter, hot air balloon, all-terrain vehicle, flatbed trucks, inflatable rafts and a 30-foot hydraulic crane, the director was able to capture truly sensational shots of the world's largest land mammal feeding, playing, fighting, nurturing its young, and charging the camera in a full-on assault.
The film's most touching moments, however, are in majestically capturing the vivid expressions of emotion of these powerful beasts. The filmmakers bring us close to understanding the hearts of these animals, shown in gentle embraces in many of the film's sequences--something you would not normally associate with wild animals. While filming the herd searching for food during a severe drought, one of its members collapses to the ground. Quickly, it is surrounded by the others as they cooperatively push and lift the animal back on its feet. Later, when the herd comes across a mother whose baby has died, they tenderly stroke her with their trunks as she struggles to revive her infant. But most unusual is their response when they come upon the bleached bones of another elephant: Carefully, they form a circle around the bones as each examine them, touching and smelling them ritualistically.
Narrating the tale of the elephants is Avery Brooks ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") who tells the story from the perspective of a bull elephant. However, rather than personalizing the story, it creates confusion as to who is speaking. With veteran zoologist Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a specialist in elephant behavior, on location to interpret the animals' behavior, this film would have benefitted more with a scientific approach rather than a Disneyesque storyline told by a bull elephant.
Entertaining and vastly informative, this film will be donating a portion of its proceeds to the conservation, educational charity "Save The Elephants" which is trying to protect these endangered animals. Directed, written and produced by Michael Caulfield. Narrated by Avery Brooks. A Discovery Channel Pictures release. Unrated. Documentary. Running time: 40 minutes.
Tags: Michael Caulfield, Avery Brooks, A Discovery Channel Pictures, infant, elephants, confusion, behavior, animals
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