Le Confident

Ideas tête-à-tête

Stunning Gems

About documentaries. I’ve got myself a new iMac, which is the reason for the silence on my part these days. These machines are truly amazing, but they have enough publicity and you know about them already.

I took the opportunity to review some of my favorite documentaries in new graphical presentation and was stunned once again by the amazing richness of nature. So I decided to post about my three most viewed docs as well as some sources where you can find free material over the internet.

The first one was presented to me by Leonore a couple of months ago. It dates back to the 90s and was then a typical wonder-movie for children in France. But it is wrong and unfair to reduce its audience to children of a past millennium. Not only children can learn from it, and it is technically extremely well done. I’m talking about “Mikrokosmos” (1996, Nuridsany/Pérennou).
The film is exceptional. For once, it’s not your typical dramatized documentary movie with murderous cats and the cute little seal. As suggested by the name, you will discover the world of the very small, mostly insects, mostly common ones too, but from a rarely seen angle. The commentary is reduced to some three sentences total, the soundtrack is a form of experimental music, which tries to imagine what you would hear, if you were but a few millimeters big.

Here’s a trailer on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76R2EKEnoJQ 

If you like it, go for the dvd, it is definitively worth to see this in the best obtainable quality. But it seems, that you can also get a glimpse on youtube.

Since we are all big fans of photography, let me stay a while in the mikrokosmos.

On the right you see a picture of a tardigrade, water-bear or Bärtierchen as we say quite similarly in german, because this little one has, under the electron-microscope quite the appearance of
a small bear. He is related to insects or annelidae , all within the division of articulate animals, the most diverse group of life-forms on earth. With these animals, organisms start to be composed of distinct compartments like legs, head or body segments. Tardigrades don’t possess real articulations however, which means those legs are quite limited in their movements. This is how I learned it however, today, after reading RNA-sequences, people group them differently.

In each case, there are about a thousand specimen of water-bears, and they are especially interesting as they are very heat resistant, because of a thick shell, that lets them live way past 100° C and even travel into space without harm. They can also develop an anabiotic state, in which they can survive heat and aridity for more than 10 years.
Where you can see something like a mouth on this picture, there is essentially the pharynx, which they can push forward. With razor-blade like stilettos they can cut through cell membranes, animal and plant skin and then suck out whatsoever is there to gain in the respective organism. Most of them eat smaller organisms and organic debris, but also smaller water bears are hunted. Even if you feel strong and invincible as a water bear, chances are that you might get eaten by earth worms, small spiders insect larvas or even mushrooms. Some of those grow into you through your skin, others start to grow once you have eaten them and digest you from within. Imagine this world!

More beautiful photos can be seen here and here. But as they are up to one millimeter big, you can see them yourself with a microscope. You can find them in drip moldings or on moss. Also in antarctic tarns, if that should suit you better!

This thing with mushrooms eating animals reminded me of the jungle episode of the BBC documentary “Planet Earth”. Now this one, although more conventionally narrated, is a true gem. Shot in HD, you can get a glimpse on all major biotopes on our planet. You can since the first broadcast choose between the original television series and a feature film, narrated by Sigourney Weaver if I remember correctly.
Even if you know your bit of biology already, you will be impressed or better even inspired by the jungle, cave, mountain and deep ocean episodes.

Here you can have a brief overview.  My favorite is especially the jungle-episodes. You will get a microcosmic insight into the growth of various plants as well as gorgeous shots of amphibia and this one very strange highlight, where an ant is eaten by a mushroom. There are various flesh eating mushrooms, some make nooses to trap animals, as in the case of the water-bear example. Others start to grow, once their spores are eaten by animals.

The Cordiceps presented by this episode is inhaled by ants. Once its growth reaches the brain of the animal, the mushroom “tells” it to climb high, where further spore dispersion is facilitated, then the fruiting body of the mushrooms (what we normally eat, when eating fungi) crack through the chitin shell of the insect and it dies.

The third one was done by James Cameron. As you might know, he is not only a major hollywood figure, but also an apt deep-ocean explorer. In Aliens of the deep he shows wonderful things about the ocean floor. One example are giant tube worms living from chemicals on the edge of black smokers.

Here the links to a youtube trailer. Of course you know what else to expect of this site. Recently, Cameron was exploring the Mariana Trench. I’m curious what will come out of this endeavor.

Lastly, let me mention two links to documentaries online. Both offer a selection of short films, docus as well as university lectures. Especially these last offer a wide range of basic education in natural sciences and humanities. There are almost no good online courses for art related content like architecture or artistic techniques, but they will surely follow one day. The documentaries are hand chosen and cover all sorts of topics.

http://www.documentarytube.com/

http://science-documentaries.com/

I liked this one a lot, found on the second link. Cheers everybody!

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This entry was posted on June 9, 2012 by in Natural Sciences and tagged .
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