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A Fantastic New Illustra Film, Flight: The Genius of Birds

We were scooped by our own guys! If you heard Paul Nelson on the Michael Medved Show's Science & Culture Update, you already know this: A fantastically beautiful new documentary featuring two Discovery Institute-affiliated researchers -- philosopher of biology Dr. Nelson and biologist Ann Gauger -- has just been released that shows, with exquisite cinematography and scientific information, the design inherent in avian flight.

The poet William Blake observed that, "When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius." But the same is true of birds in general. Flight: The Genius of Birds is the latest nature documentary in the "Design of Life" series from Illustra Media. You may know that name because Illustra's previous release in the series was Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies (speaking of which, download the free companion book from Discovery Institute Press, edited by David Klinghoffer, here).

FLIGHT-DVD.jpgJoining Nelson and Gauger in making the case for intelligent design, Dr. Timothy Standish of Geoscience Research Institute adds his expertise on bird development. Other scientists who are experts on specific birds round out the scientific content, some never before presented in film. The true story of the Arctic Tern's epic migration is told by the man who revealed it: Carsten Egevang of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. Also, a recent discovery about the dynamic action of the hummingbird's tongue has been portrayed in a dramatic animation in the film, along with other amazing facts about hummers told by Dr. Thomas Emmel, who also appeared in Metamorphosis. In another compelling sequence, new information about starlings is presented by British nature cinematographer Dylan Winter.

Flight brings together gorgeous, thrilling footage of dozens of species of birds in their natural habitats, integrated with detailed animations of the structures that make flight possible, woven around a narration that ties cutting-edge science to powerful arguments for design. The animations by Illustra Media's Joseph Condeelis and editor Jerry Harned are richer than ever: colorful, realistic and extremely illuminating. As in Metamorphosis, the narration features the rich bass voice of Alvin Chea of the singing group Take 6. Composer Mark Edward Lewis has again excelled with an original symphonic score that makes the heart soar alongside the flying stars of the film. Producer Lad Allen shot much of the original footage on a high-speed RED Epic camera, the kind used for The Lord of the Rings. At 240 frames per second, the camera allowed the otherwise rapid motions of wings to be shown with all their subtleties.

As an argument for intelligent design, what makes this film particularly winsome is its blend of general information with specifics, where design is evident throughout. Viewers will learn a great deal about bird anatomy and development, but will also be treated to three special-interest stories about specific birds that will leave you saying, along with Dylan Winter, "How wonderful is that!" The volume of information packed into this 63-minute film is amazing --yet it never feels rushed.

Drs. Nelson, Gauger and Standish bring home the argument for design in the film's conclusion. They dispute the standard of methodological naturalism that expects scientists to ignore their intuition and, instead, force observations into a naturalistic mold. To Francis Crick's rule that "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved," they respond that scientists should, rather, pursue the "true cause" of avian flight: a cause capable of visualizing a distant goal and bringing together all the multiple, independent systems needed to achieve it. The requirements for powered flight are very demanding. As Paul Nelson quips, "If something works, it's not happening by accident."

Flight: The Genius of Birds is now available in DVD and Blu-ray formats. Sonically and visually, the Blu-ray version in high-def will provide an awesome experience in a well-equipped home theater with a large screen and 5.1 surround sound. The DVD version, though -- the finest-resolution DVD Illustra has ever produced -- looks great, too.