Let the wildlife documentaries roll in. I suppose it's lucrative enough to make a film based on animals both in wildlife, or in captivity, protecting them from the threat of extinction. You can name such films with ease, starting from the award winning March of the Penguins, to the fictional story The Fox & the Child and to the latest screened here in Panda Diary. The Meerkats took a bow at last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, and while we may not be that familiar with this species, the story weaved into this documentary has universal themes going back to basics on survival.
The filmmakers had spent some 6 months to observe the meerkats' breeding period in their natural environment in the Kalahari desert, and the footage they obtained is nothing less than stunning, though I suspect for certain shots they had recycled perhaps from some earlier moments, and juxtaposed them in place to make a more logical narrative. Still, it's no mean feat deserving of kudos for Alexander McCall Smith because it certainly takes tremendous man-hours to craft a drama narratively from what is essentially footage of animals going about their own thing.
Narrated by the late Paul Newman, The Meerkats have all the ingredients necessary to engage an audience throughout its brisk 83 minutes. We have an identified flawed hero Meerkat, Kolo, from whose eyes we will witness events from. And it's like a life-cycle, coming of age tale, with Kolo's birth, the life lessons he has got to learn fast if he's to survival in a harsh habitat with predators and the environment both threatening his family's very survival, a tragedy, an accidental exile and the return of the prodigal son.
For the uninitiated, we get to learn a little more about the meerkats just as how one watching a nature documentary would pick up from, such as their diet, their underground abode, as well as their chief enemies, and director James Honeybornes ensures we get ringside seats in the thick of the action whether it's the battling against swooping eagles, cunning snakes, or even against fellow meerkats of a different tribe. Personallly I dislike snakes, and watching one slither about onscreen and up close, isn't really my cup of tea. But the “action sequences” were an eye-opener, with a very natural and real sense of danger because it's not crafted, but is exactly as what nature intended – the laws of the food chain amongst the vast African plains.
So for documentary lovers out there who are on the bandwagon for more wildlife films, then The Meerkats would be your automatic choice. Recommended.