(director/writer: Nicolas Brown; screenwriter: based on a book by Sean B. Carroll. cinematographer: Tim Cragg; editor: Andy R. Worboys; music: Anne Nikitin; cast: Robert Paine, Jim Estes, Mary Power, Tony Sinclair, John Terborgh, Greg Kriek (Young Tony Sinclair), Ashlyn Jade Lopez (Young Mary Power), Jonathan Newport (Young John Terborgh), Samantha Nugent (Mary Power Age 33), Mathieson McCrae (Young Bob Paine), Jaime Excell (Young Jim Estes); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Allen; Abramorama; 2018)

“High-caliber science documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nicolas Brown (“Pandas: The Journey Home”) presents an informative eco-documentary that’s based on a book by scientist/author Sean B. Carroll. Brown has pioneering ecologists explore five remote areas across the globe to talk about the effects of nature on them during changes to the environment. Brown’s book claim is of “a unique story of hope” about researchers who “discovered a single set of rules that govern all life.” It basically tells us our earlier knowledge of ecology is faulty and needs updating. The four scientists covered here are on message with the ideas of the late zoologist Robert Paine (first proclaimed in 1969), who was interviewed for the film on his death-bed and is a key figure here for advancing his theory of “keystone species” concept.

The highlight spot covered is in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, where Tony Sinclair does a study on a viral disease called Rinderpest that demolished the population of a keystone species, the wildebeest, leading to a dramatic downgrading of plant and animal life. But after a vaccine stopped Rinderpest, the wildebeest population came back, and the forests were reborn.

Other target spots include the Jim Estes study of sea otters in the tide pools of the Pacific northwest (the Aleutian Islands), John Terborgh’s studies in the Amazon rain forests, Mary Power in Oklahoma’s freshwater, and Robert Paine in the Washington tide pools.

In this high-caliber science documentary the featured five scientists have expanded our understanding of complex ecosystems and assure us that much of the damage we’ve done to the planet is reversible, but only if we begin to take the right steps to restore things.

Stunning photography, sharp interviews of the scientists, lively reenactments, an insider behind-the-scenes look at the scientists at work and a lucid presentation of ideas, help make this documentary a good one. It’s a film tailor-made for nature lovers. Those in the general audience who are not into science might find its rich usage of science terminology overwhelming at times.

A scene from “The Serengeti Rules,” a documentary film directed by Nicolas Brown.

REVIEWED ON 5/1/2019       GRADE: B+