Saturday, October 17, 2020

Movie Review: "Escape from Extinction" (2020)

Movie poster for the nature documentary "Escape from Extinction" (2020), narrated by Helen Mirren
Image Source

Movie"Escape from Extinction"
Director: Matthew R. Brady
Year: 2020
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

American Humane's documentary "Escape from Extinction" (2020) could be considered the anti-"Blackfish" (2013), the CNN-produced documentary that provided a scathing indictment of keeping whales in captivity. "Blackfish" (2013) attempted to link the violent behavior of one Orca as evidence of a whale's desire to be in the ocean rather than in an aquarium. It made claims that Orcas never attack humans in the wild, though recent footage of killer whales attacking boats in Spain calls this into question. It also argued against breeding programs, as well as the very existence of parks like Sea World. Like all things in life, there are two sides to every coin, and all documentaries come with some form of inherent bias. "Escape from Extinction" (2020) explores the importance of zoos and aquariums and the work they do to conserve endangered species throughout the globe. It serves to educate the public on the actual work these parks do behind closed doors and away from the public eye as they attempt to bring species back from the brink of extinction.

An African elephant with large white tusks in the movie "Escape from Extinction"
(Image Source)
There's no doubt "Escape from Extinction" (2020) is pushing its own agenda. However, it does offer a strong argument in favor of the existence of zoos and aquariums as long as they are accredited like the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the Birch Aquarium, not 'for-profit' roadside zoos like the one seen on Netflix's "Tiger King." Documentaries like "Blackfish" (2013) rely on emotion and more anecdotal evidence, but "Escape from Extinction (2020) is much more facts-and-data-driven. It feels like its primary purpose is to reason with the audience and to explain what zoos and aquariums actually do. Director Matthew R. Brady wants to stress that these places are not animal prisons that recklessly put exotic creatures on display for the amusement of the masses, but are places of research and education that strive to give people information about and passion for wildlife and conservation.

As we mentioned, this entire project feels like a direct response to the animal rights activists who have continually called for global boycotts of zoos and aquariums until the immediate release of all animals into the wild. "Escape from Extinction" (2020) lets viewers know that releasing animals into the wild could very likely be a death sentence for creatures who have spent years in the care of humans. It'd be like taking a family dog (one that has spent its entire life in human care), letting it go, and making it fend for itself in the wilderness. The primary account cited against releasing animals into the wild is the story of Keiko from the film "Free Willy" (1993), who was released from captivity in 2002 but was never able to survive without human help despite millions of dollars invested and years of integration training. Up until his death in December 2003, Keiko sought out human interaction, and he was never able to integrate with other Orcas because humans were all he had ever known. He was supposed to be a success story, but spending $20,000,000 to keep one whale alive for publicity is anything but a victory. While well-intentioned, saying "free all the animals" frequently means "let's send these animals off to die." Writers Alex Blumberg and Peter Meadows really pound in just how many species would now be extinct if it weren't for the efforts of zoos and aquariums. Animals like the grey wolves of Yellowstone, the American bison, the black-footed ferret, and many others would be gone forever if not for the conservation done by these parks.

The other aspect of "Escape from Extinction" (2020) involves showing how we got where we are in terms of the sheer number of endangered and extinct species on our planet. These beings aren't becoming extinct because nature is taking its course. They are being destroyed by poaching, deforestation, urban sprawl, industrialization, and environmental pollution via oil and plastics. These are man-made problems, and if people are part of the problem, they also have to be part of the solution.
Sea World employees give medical care to a manatee in a movie still for the 2020 documentary "Escape from Extinction."
Sea World employees give medical care to a manatee in a movie still for the 2020 documentary "Escape from Extinction." (Image Source)
"Escape from Extinction" (2020) is a competently made film that features an excellent voiceover by Dame Helen Mirren. This isn't a documentary like "The Cove" (2009) that will leave you sobbing and/or in shock, but it might make you think (or rethink) about accredited zoos and aquariums. While it is certainly biased, it makes a compelling argument that's difficult to counter. As much as we agree with the subject matter, after a while, the information does start to feel a bit redundant. We understand early on that zoos are a vital cog in the enormous machine of animal conservation, so we felt like the runtime could have easily been cut by 10-15 minutes without losing its impactful point. Without zoos and aquariums, much of the funding for global conservation efforts wouldn't be there, and many of the experts who go into the field to help animals wouldn't exist without the training and interactions they have had with the wildlife at these places. We wish the movie had offered a few more solutions beyond "support the organizations in which we're heavily involved," but the message is crucial nonetheless.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ---/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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