Review by Sean Boelman
Although it may sound like a new Christmas film, A Reindeer’s Journey is instead a new nature documentary about the non-magical version of the eponymous animal. However, despite some breathtaking imagery, the filmmakers aren’t able to pull a compelling enough narrative out of the footage.
The movie follows a young reindeer as he grows up in the Lapland of Finland. Although it isn’t uncommon for documentarians to impose a coming-of-age storyline on nature documentaries like this, filmmaker Guillaume Maidatchevsky imposes one that is so standard and by-the-book that the gorgeous footage feels entirely wasted.
Even though the film clocks in at less than an hour and a half, it ultimately feels much longer because the movie is so poorly-paced. Much of the film is far too slow-moving for its own good. It is obvious that there had to be some more exciting footage, or at least a way to present the footage in a more narratively interesting way.
That said, the movie does a solid job of making the audience care about the main reindeer, Ailo, if only because most audiences will find themselves enamored with the cute animal. Yet unfortunately, there is little more to the film than that. The personified character which the filmmaker builds for Ailo is just as generic as the story being presented.
Like many other nature documentaries as of late, the movie is a bit misleading in that it is not focused exclusively on the animal in its title. Instead, the focus is on the entire ecosystem of the Lapland. Too much time is spent on the other animals featured in the footage, attempting to force an arc onto them in addition to Ailo, leaving the main storyline of the film feeling underwhelming.
The movie’s narration, from Donald Sutherland in the U.S. version, is also extremely bland. Even though Sutherland’s talents as a performer are indisputable, it seems that his voice does not make for a good nature documentary narration. Whereas a comedically-oriented actor could have saved the film from being outright boring, Sutherland’s straightforward voiceover could almost lull one to sleep.
Regardless, the movie does offer what is the main draw of nature documentaries: some absolutely beautiful footage of the wilderness. Maidatchevsky undeniably has a very good eye, and the cinematographers are certainly very talented, but it is just a shame that their visual talents are squandered on such a mediocre narrative.
A Reindeer’s Journey is a disappointing nature documentary even though it does feature quite a few breathtaking shots. Sadly, it almost feels as if the film would be better if the audio were turned off completely.
A Reindeer’s Journey is now available on VOD.