A more-than-worthwhile retrospective of Wolfgang Bayer's long career as a top nature cinematographer is sabotaged by his son Tristan's ego as he seemingly attempts to turn the whole docu into a referendum on his own future as the next in line. Stripping off soundtrack and starting over sparely would be cheapest, easiest way of salvaging pic, and the elder Bayer's reputation.

A more-than-worthwhile retrospective of Wolfgang Bayer’s long career as a top nature cinematographer is sabotaged by his son Tristan’s ego as he seemingly attempts to turn the whole docu into a referendum on his own future as the next in line. Combo of breathtaking shots on seven continents and relentless Hallmark-style narration (and syrupy music) makes “Earthling” play like a moist send-up of “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” — except that nobody here gets the joke. Stripping off soundtrack and starting over sparely would be cheapest, easiest way of salvaging pic, and the elder Bayer’s reputation.

White-haired, Austrian-born director of photography, an impressive presence indeed, is best known for amazing work on award-winning specials for Nova, Nature and National Geographic. But unlike Bill Murray’s Cousteau-like Zissou character, Bayer has never tried to market himself as a tube-cult adventurer.

Here, however, his best work is woven together with Imax-stiff reenactments and new footage of Bayer’s family on what’s inexplicably touted as “one last expedition.” Sun-drenched images of noxious fruit bats, butterfly storms, and white-on-white polar bears are spectacular, and Bayer’s wife and college-age daughter seem like good sports.

But son Tristan’s banal, self-dramatizing comments offer no insight into the environments seen in Technicolor glory. A newcomer to genre would never know that any of the gorgeous places on view are under threat from man.

Earthling

Production

An EarthNative Entertainment production in association with Wolfgang Bayer Prods. (International sales: EarthNative, Los Angeles.) Produced, directed by Tristan Bayer, Wolfgang Bayer. Written by Tristan Bayer, Kenneth R. Courtney.

Crew

Camera (color), Wolfgang Bayer; editors, Tristan Bayer, Leslie Getty; music, Stewart Jackson, Dan Jones; sound (Dolby), Roger Davis; assistant director, Ian Gersten. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (Refracting Reality), June 12, 2005. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Tristan, Wolfgang, Candice and Malaika Bayer.
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