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Proteus (Unrated)

Release Date: August 5th, 2005 (NYC-Anthology Film Archives)
Directed by David Lebrun.

BASIC PREMISE: A documentary about Ernst Haeckel, a 19th Century biologist and artist who explored the microscopic wonders of the sea.

ENTERTAINMENT: 99% of this film is animated with hand-drawn illustrations. The remaining 1% accounts for a few black-and-white still photographs. With its montage of illustrations, this film is visually entertaining. There is one memorable montage of many changing shapes of microscopic sea organisms. Along with the musical score, this sequence is very similar to the ones in Godfrey Reggio's films such as Naqoyqatsi. There is a basic conflict in this documentary that does make it interesting which is that Haeckel constantly battled between the two opposing viewpoints of the nature: one that is governed by science alone versus one that is governed by intangible things that require one to look inward or a.k.a. romanticism. Most of the film provides a good historical background about the 19th Century romanticism movement. Unfortunately, none of the illustrations really come alive except during the montage scenes.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The one very thought-provoking issue that threads throughout this film is that nature and science are probably not simply chaotic in nature without any real meaning. The organisms are so intricate and beautiful that it suggest that they might have been designed by a creator like God--or in Ancient Greek mythology the god of the sea is Proteus. The wonders of nature and science are infinite and it is somewhat touching that Haekel is impassioned by the tiny microscopic life forms under his microscope. Although not adequately explored in the running time of 60 minutes, Haekel gradually shifted from a dependent individual who conforms to the norms set by his father--such as his profession--to an independent person who simply follows his passion: the science of sea life.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Occasionally, there is too much facts and narration.


THE BOTTOM LINE: A visually-stunning documentary with a lot of interesting facts compacted into just one hour. Some of the images are haunting, but too much food for thought is not always good-- especially if the thoughts are not analyzed or elaborated enough. Nonetheless, this film never drags or overstays it welcome.

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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