Following the true story of scientist Henry Bates in the 1840s, this satisfying film uses Imax tech to provide astonishing wildlife detail
In places, this satisfying Imax edutainment brings forth happy memories of James Gray’s excellent The Lost City of Z. It’s a tribute to another overshadowed historical figure, that of Henry Walter Bates, the Leicester-born amateur scientist – and Alfred Wallace associate – who struck out for the Amazon in 1848, charged with collecting insects at threepence per bug, and in so doing indirectly gathered the evolutionary proofs that backed up Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. What Bates (embodied here by an engaging Calum Finlay) observed in these parts – when he wasn’t bleary-eyed from malaria – were “leaves that could fly, bird droppings that could walk”: ie those craftier critters whose predator-bamboozling camouflage was so well-developed they hadn’t previously been spotted. This is what scientists call “Batesian mimicry”.
Director Mike Slee (who enjoyed a big Imax hit with the Judi Dench-narrated Bugs! in 2003) and screenwriters Carl Knutson and Wendy MacKeigan recognise that Bates’s fieldwork might itself pass usefully for Saturday morning matinee fare. Verdant Brazilian location work plunges us from the opening moments into a fully immersive jungle environment, complete with such adventure-movie staples as shipwrecks, hungry leopards and mischievous monkeys. Yet the team also find smart and invariably visual means of illustrating their human subject’s breakthroughs. When a chain of stereoscopic butterflies flutters across our field of vision, each insect bearing similar yet subtly distinct markings, it’s the 3D equivalent of a lightbulb moment: you feel you could literally grasp Bates’s working method.