Sunday, April 29, 2012

Valiant: pigeons at war

Title: Valiant
Year:  2005
Director: Gary Chapman
Running time: 105 min.
Country: United Kingdom

This movie is about pigeons at war. At the beginning Valiant is a young recruit of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service. The film shows the pigeon training in Britain and subsequent service in France during the WWII. It includes all the ingredients of a war movie: hard training in a recruit facility, many action scenes, and a romance between Valiant and Victora, a nurse dove.

It is interesting that the characters behave just like humans and they are not pigeon-realistic at all. However, they perform a genuine pigeon duty: to deliver messages during war time. Another characteristic of war movies is the character's evolution: at the beginning Valiant is a young pigeon that seems to be unable to go to war, then during the war he evolves into a tough pigeon and finally he becomes a veteran hero (see pictures below).

Dickin Medal

I would like to mention that at the end of the movie Valiant received a Dickin Medal, which honors the work of animals in war. In the real world this medal was conceded for the first time to three pigeons named White Vision, Winkie and Tyke. All of them carried out outstandingly heroic actions. For instance, White Vision was released from a sinking flying boat. She flew 60 miles back to her loft carrying the plane's location in very hard conditions: heavy seas with low visibility and strong headwind. Thanks to this action the plane could be located and the crew rescued. After that, many other pigeons received this medal. In the Royal Pigeon Racing Association you can see a summary and a brief description of each feathered hero. This movie shows an important contribution of pigeons to the war effort. Is this an advanced kind of human-pigeon symbiosis?

Valiant as a young pigeon before recluitment.

Valiant as a soldier

Valiant as a veteran hero

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source: Valiant   Starring moment: the complete film
  • Pigeon activity: Valiant and his friends are pigeons which serve the Royal Homing Pigeon Service. They are involved in many war actions against the enemy: German falcons.
  • Symbolism: In the end, the pigeon characters behave like humans that do pigeon duties, so this is a mere excuse to record a war movie with a different perspective from the others. 
  • Relevance: Complete.
  • Training level: Not applicable.

Friday, April 27, 2012

25th Movie Post Anniversary... coming soon

Only 3 more movie posts till the 25th Movie Post Anniversary... there will be a feathered celebration!!

Update: link to the Anniversary.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Matrix: are there pigeons in Matrix?

Title: Matrix
Year:  1999
Directors: Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
Running time: 131 min.
Country: United States

Are there pigeons in Matrix?  This is a tricky question that requires some analysis. Firstly, I would like to remark that there are pigeons appearances in the film: during Neo's training, he and Morpheus enter a program that recreates Matrix. Suddenly, everything in frozen and Neo meets face to face with a reproduction of Agent Smith. In the following images we can see a couple of these feathered creatures behind Neo and two other more in from of him, far away.  The complete scene can be seen here. In the film scene Neo and Morpheus are more interested in the deadly agent than in the flying pigeons - logically. However, neither both of them are surprised about the pigeons' presence... which means that both of them are used to seeing pigeons... given that both of them come from Matrix. That means that yes, there are pigeons in Matrix. Otherwise, they wouldn't be used in this scene.

However, this answer raises another question that is even more intriguing: are pigeons real creatures in Matrix or are they mere software reproductions? A lot of analysis has been done on the agent role but a little attention was paid to the pigeon appearances and their significance in the film.

According to the Second Renaissance story of Animatrix, humans and machines fought a war that completely devastated the Earth and ended with mankind's demise. Humans, in a desperate attempt to deprive the machines of solar energy, completely darkened the skies. In the end the humans were defeated and machines destroyed all traces of civilization, enslaving the remaining survivors. Meanwhile, without light, all the vegetation died and the natural food pyramid collapsed killing all the living animals. The lack of plant life is a very depressing scenario that is also reflected in other movies like John Hillcoat's The Road (it is a shame that the birds that appear in this movie are not pigeons).

So... what about pigeons? There are two possible scenarios for their presence in Matrix:
  • Scenario A: all the pigeons died during the war but the machines recreated them as software applications. That is, pigeons are mere artificial programs that are working for Matrix itself.
  • Scenario B: a pigeon fancier survived the holocaust with his birds. After the war both fancier and pigeons were captured by the machines and subsequently enslaved. It is also possible that some urban pigeons survived alone. In both cases pigeons are real creatures trapped, like humans, by the machines.
 In the following sections I will analyze each scenario in more detail. 

Scenerario A: pigeons as artificial programs

In this scenario the pigeons are mere programs belonging to Matrix. Why are they used? Why not just leave them out? The straightforward anwser is to produce a realistic city recreation... in the end, a city without pigeons is not city at all, is it? However, there is a darker reason for using artificial pigeons: they can be employed as a surveillance system. In this hypothesis, pigeons are like agents, they work for Matrix but in a more passive way: instead of killing human rebels, they only gather information. For instance, when you are in any city or big town you can find pigeons everywhere...  now try to imagine that each one is recording and reporting your actions....terrible!! What about if we are actually in Matrix and pigeons are spying on us? After thinking about this, now I notice pigeons in a different and more sinister way.

Artist's concepcion of a surveillance Agent Pigeon and its dark shadow

Artist's concepcion of a surveillance Agent Pigeon

Scenerario B: pigeons as real trapped creatures in Matrix

In this scenario some pigeons survived the human holocaust and were captured with the remaining human survivors. Machines needed an alternative power source and discovered that humans could be used as batteries. Why not use pigeons in the same way? Of course, they would be smaller batteries, so pigeons have less power than humans, but they also have better reliability which can be advantageous.  For instance, they will never revolt against Machines. In this scenario pigeons will live in Matrix with infinite joy  populating all the buildings and not causing the system any problems.

In Matrix Reloaded, Neo meets the Architect and Neo affirms that the machines need humans for power. The Architect says that he is wrong, -there are levels of survival we are prepared to accept- he says. Is he saying that machines can use pigeons instead of humans?

In the real world some artists concieved a similar idea to this one:  to use a matrix of chickens for food production in industrial environments. A Chicken Matrix could be even more horrifying than the pigeon Matrix suggested in this scenario. 

Artist's representation of Neo-Pigeon waking up after eating the red bird seeds (maybe it finished both the blue and the red seeds). Neo-Pigeon discovers that both humans and his pigeon-colleagues are actually trapped in pods and used for power generation.

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source: Matrix  Starring moment: 0:57:20
  • Pigeon activity: They are common pigeons flying in a square, as part of a Matrix recreation.
  • Symbolism: I think that pigeons are used in this scene to prove the quality of the special effects. The complete scene is frozen. Without pigeons, some spectators would think that all the characters (including Agent Smith) are static. However, showing frozen flying pigeons proves that the whole scene is actually frozen, providing extra realism.
  • Relevance: None. Pigeons are completely ignored by all the characters.
  • Training level: Average. They fly away in a realistic way but they have little presence given that most of the time they are frozen.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Research Report: pigeons in videoclips

In this new section I summarise research activities in different pigeon-related fields. The first study is a summary of pigeon appearances in music clips. I have selected three relevant complete clips and three short non-professional clips.

Dansette Junior - "Paranoid"

In this dub-electro-pop videoclip the pigeons play synthesizers. The special effects are remarkable.  Link to the band's myspace site here. Click on the picture below to watch the videoclip.

Girls in the Boy Scouts - "Pigeon Pigeon"

This clip is a collection of recordings of cameras attached to pigeons. Despite the fast movement of the camera, some of the filming is amazing. The relaxing song is a nice soundtrack for the videoclip. Band home page here. Link to myspace here. Click on the picture below to watch the videoclip.

Nonsensione - "Fancy Pigeon"

The music is less relaxing than the former clip and the clip imagery is more abstract. Unfortunately I couldn't find the author homepage. Click on the picture below to watch the videoclip.

There are some other amateur clips that I think are also interesting despite not being proper music clips.

An interesting synchronisation between pigeon head movement and music. Warning!. Some people were hypnotized watching this clip

A pigeon spinning on a chimney with techno-industrial music. I don't know if the pigeon is enjoying.

Inter-tribal pow wow music combined with pigeon-mating dance. A bizarre video clip.

King Pigeon Jr.

Hard Target: a cocktail of Van Damme, violence and pigeons

Title: Hard Target
Year:  1993
Director: John Woo
Running time: 92 min.
Country: United States

What would you expect from a film directed by John Woo and starring by Jean Claude Van Damme?

Some action?  Sure
Plenty of violence?  Absolutely
Traces of romance?  Few (actually none in this film)
Any pigeons?  Tons of them!!!

This film includes several pigeon-related scenes which develop a significant role in the plot. In the film there are two sides: the goodies and the baddies. On one hand, we find Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). He is a hero who is helping Natasha in the search for her father. On the other, there is a group of bad guys commanded by the evil Emil Bouchon. This group eventually finds Mr. Chance and tries to hunt and kill him. In between, there are many pigeon appearances -always supporting the protagonist-. I summarize these appearances in three scenes that I think that are the most representative.

Scene 1, the dove's miraclous guidance

Chances respectful stares at the dove
Chance is at the place where the corpse of Natasha's father was found. He is looking for new evidence when suddenly a dove enters the scene.  Chance follows the flight of the dove, which stops on a wooden railing. We can see how the dove nods pinpointing  the evidence that Chance is looking for.
It is a general consensus that Jean Claude Van Damme didn't perform an exceptional interpretation in this movie but in this scene I think that he does pretty well: he seems to be very interested in the pigeon's behaviour and he shows a respectful attitude (as opposed to Woody Allen in Star Dust Memories). Somehow he knows that the dove is helping him and he appreciates very much this gentile help.

The dove shows Chance the criminal evidence that he is looking for

Scene 2, the martyr pigeons

The hunt for Chance is approaching the climax. He is cornered in an abandoned warehouse. Two John-Woo-style-bad-guy-pimps are chasing him driving motorbikes inside the warehouse. One of them (that we are going to call Bad Guy) stops and searchs for his victim, Mr. Chance. The Bad Guy is not aware of the presence of several pigeons above him. In parallel with this action, and pressed under the circumstances of a heavy vegetable-based breakfast, one of the pigeons poos on the helmet of the Bad Guy  (left picture). This is always a very disturbing event, but if you are a bad guy armed with a machine gun the consecuences can be fatal. This is the case of these innocent pigeons which were massacred under the indiscriminate revenge fire of this pigeon maniac. A bloody-feathered slaughter. After ending his revenge Chance appears in the scene and pronounces his famous and very deep phrase: Hey Pigeon!. The bad guy is unable to kill Chance (given that he finished all the ammunition firing at the pigeons) and Chance takes his time to kill the Bad Guy in a very terrible and painful way which I will avoid describing because it is not related to pigeons. The complete scene can be seen here.

The pigeon feels relaxes after pooing on the Bad Guy

The massacre of the innocent pigeons under the indiscriminate fire of the Bad Guy

Scene 3, the beginning of the killing rampage

After hiding in the deepest side of the warehouse Chance is ready to show his skills as a killing machine in a bloody rampage. Before starting the orgy of violence we can see him with a feathered friend. They are staring each other. I really like the complicity between this two characters.

Mr. Chance waits to start the killing rampage with his feathered friend

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source: Hard Target  Starring moment: Scene 1: 0:29:45, Scene 2: 1:12:57, Scene 3: 1:15:44
  • Pigeon activity: The pigeons develop several roles. In scene 1 there is a providence dove that guides the protagonist. In scene 2 there are common pigeons that live in an abandoned building. Finally, in scene 3 there is a friendly pigeon that fraternizes with Van Damme.
  • Symbolism: Again, each scene has a different symbolism. In scene 1 the dove represents the search for justice. Maybe even it could symbolise Natasha's father's soul guiding the protagonist. In scenes 2 and 3 they are common but friendly pigeons.
  • Relevance: High. The pigeons help the protagonist in several parts of the movie.
  • Training level: John Woo invested a large budget for using pigeons in this movie. Apart from the scenes commented on in this post there are many appearances of pigeons flying across the scenery. All of the pigeons are remarkably well-trained.

Thanks to Dogghound's Knight Grand Cross of the Wild Empire for suggesting this film

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Descendants: pigeons on the beach

Title:The Descendants
Year: 2011
Director: Alexander Payne
Running time: 110 min.
Country: United States

Matt King (George Clooney) is in a very complicated situation. His wife had a boating accident and is in a coma with no chances of survival. The relationship with his daughters (especially with the older one, Alex) is also difficult. In addition, he has to decide whether or not to sell a large portion of land that his family owns. Many many problems are on Matt's mind. 

In this scene we can see Matt resting on a beach while his 10-year-old daughter swims on the sea. Close to him, we can notice a couple of pigeons roaming on the sand. Matt is thinking about all his problems but during a short scene we see him looking at -supposedly- the pigeons. Maybe he will get some relief from this feathered company.

Mr. Matt is sadly looking at the doves

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source: The Descendants  Starring moment: 0:14:34
  • Pigeon activity: There are two doves pecking at the sand close to the protagonist. Given that pigeons usually stay close to food and given that they don't have any special preference for seaweed there are two possible scenarios for this behaviour. Scenario A: Matt is a pigeon fancier and he gave some food (maybe the leftovers of his meal) to the pigeons. Scenario B (non desirable): Matt is not a civic-clean citizen and he had thrown some food on the beach. Pigeons detected that event and came for a search-and-eat operation.
  • Symbolism: I think that the reasons for using pigeons in this scene is to provide George Clooney with additional expressiveness. In the scene he is initially looking ahead -where his daughter is- with a serious expression. Then, he looks at the pigeons changing a little his expression and showing that he is actually sad.
  • Relevance: None. It is a shame that George Clooney didn't win the Oscar, because the pigeons would have contributed to his achievement. Given that it didn't happen, the relevance is negligible.
  • Training level: Nice and well trained doves that behave very naturally in a sand environment. I wonder what they are actually eating there. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Unconfirmed pigeon: When the wind blows

Title: When the wind blows
Year: 1986
Director: Jimmy T. Murakami
Running time: 84 min.
Country: United Kingdom

In this category we summarize unconfirmed pigeon appearances in movies. I don't provide a detailed summary of the appearance because it is not clear.

This film depicts the horrors of a nuclear holocaust in the UK. After the nuclear attack the town is completely devastated and in a scene we can see a dying bird that seems to be a pigeon. This scene can be seen here.

Details of the hypothetical pigeon starring 
  • Source: When the wind blows. Hypothetical starring moment: 0:53:09

Special thank to ~T~ Commander of the Wild Empire for suggesting this movie.