Friday, July 13, 2012

Film Review: Proteus

Charles A. Smith

David Lebrun's documentary "Proteus," is a brilliant piece of cinematography that was made over a 20 year period. The film is a stunning 19th century vision of the world of science, the sea, and new discoveries by the pioneer Ernst Haeckel.

Haeckel made many important discoveries about sea life that influenced the work of not just biologists, but Art Nouveau and Surrealism, Sigmund Freud, and even Thomas Edison. But more than that, he shaped the thoughts of the order of things in the scientific world. Haeckel was the first to find the radiolarian, a one celled organism that lives in the oceans around the world from the shores to the deepest depths. As both an artist and scientist, he did not reject that which was unseen, and his life and research seemed to be on a path that was predestined, though he did give some thought to abandoning science once he discovered his artistic abilities. Fortunately, he did not, and both served him in his work classifying creatures of the sea. He alone discovered and categorized more than 4000 species.

There are 5000 known species of  Proteus (or radiolarian) over 500 million years old, and they come in many different forms. Haeakel made a picture of each one and in "Proteus," Haeckel's work is accessible to the viewer. This research is from a time when there was no equipment to photograph these creatures, so he painted them using a microscope. His work is astounding in detail and reveals the stunning beauty of nature. Haeckel's was a time of cell discovery, and the realization of the fact that the cell is the building block of life.

During Haeckel's time, the knowledge of the sea was like space is to us now, and man had only gone down 100 feet. In an attempt to connect the continents, cable was laid from Britain to New Finland. When it was raised, simple living organisms were discovered. A scientific expedition gathered the unseen samples from the bottom of the seas all over the world, and Haeckel was commissioned to study them. His work is shown on this breathtaking and amazing DVD, which is full of beautiful art from both nature and man. This visual treat will send you to the far reaches of the solar system and mind. The life of this man and the people of his time are very intriguing. The way they thought and looked at the world is quite interesting knowing what we now know. Viewers who like history and science or those who thirst for knowledge in general will love "Proteus." It is a well made, astounding film that documents history in an utterly impressive and visually stunning manner.

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