Thursday, June 16, 2011
Tiger kittens never learn to purr.
Unfortunately, Tigers of the Snow doesn't make much of an argument. At time of production, the estimated wild Siberian Tiger population was estimated at a mere 300 (which would mean that even if the species were to survive, it would face a worse genetic bottle-necking than the cheetah did); the World Wildlife Organization places the wild population at approximately 450. It is noted the the Soviet system did a much better job of keeping poachers from decimating the population (selling the "parts" as medicine in Asia, and the pelts to whoever had the money to buy one). Indeed, it would appear that this immense predator would just prefer be rid of man and left to inhabit the mountains and forests of eastern Siberia. Those forests, however, are filled with valuable timber and that habitat (at the size the tigers require) will not endure.
What of the film? It is more an examination of dedicated, but underfunded scientists risking their lives (and the lives of the tigers they tranquilize) in an effort to both understand and preserve the species. Much of the movie is men moving about the forest (or in helicopters) with radio tracking devices -- which reminded me of Red Dawn (1984). Men perform artificial respiration on a tiger (this seems insanely dangerous) and move a foreleg up and down to try to stimulate breathing in order to ensure one being fitted with a radio collar will survive the encounter. We learn that tigers in captivity are still wild but perhaps somewhat confused by both what humans do (insert a fake tiger into the environment to test territoriality) and their own instincts. There is an absolutely heartbreaking scene of neglected tiger cubs -- apparently common in captivity -- having to be rescued from a den and attempts to keep one alive.
The camera work is nowhere near the quality of the BBC productions such as Life (2009), Planet Earth (2007), or Blue Planet (2001). Richard Kiley makes a great narrator (of course), but he doesn't have a great script with which to work. The simple fact of the matter is that there is so much we don't understand about these creatures, or even that we might not understand the meaning of what we do know (tiger kittens never learn to purr), that the viewer is left with a sense of awe of the creatures, admiration of those involved in trying to keep the species alive, but an utter sadness that more money is spent on a league-minimum baseball player than in funding the operation that keeps two of the tigers in captivity. More of a last-generation documentary, but good nonetheless.