Acclaimed natural historian David Attenborough brings his trademark infectious enthusiasm to Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants, an hour-long exploration into the secret lives of what many wrongfully dismiss as pesky irritants.
In fact, these tiny insects are remarkably complex and diverse. The film makes this clear from the start as we follow a colony of army ants during a particularly harsh winter. Burrowed deep inside nests, they activate their own internal central heating system by clumping together. The filmmakers use infrared cameras to show us the inner workings of their colony as they seamlessly collaborate on an extensive reproduction process. As the snowy season dissipates, they briefly emerge and use their bodies as solar panels to harvest sunlight that they then use to protect their un-hatched offspring.
Theirs is a story of cooperation and resiliency. Both qualities allow them to survive under the constant threats of harsh adversity. In one particularly thrilling sequence of the film, rival colonies appear in the spring months to contest territory. A vicious war of mangling, biting and organ-dissolving acids ensues. The victors conclude their battle by mercilessly feasting upon their victims.
The film pursues the inner workings of other ant species as well. It's a surprising study in contrasts. There are thousands of known ant species, and each has its own unique characteristics. Some are populated by warriors while others behave more passively and in solitude.
The filmmakers show us how these insect subjects operate. We witness their means of hunting for food, fighting off seasonal infection, manipulating their natural resources for sustenance, and how they work in large groups to defeat even the most venomous predators who invade their living space.
As is usually the case with Attenborough's work, viewers will marvel at the film's meticulous and time-consuming attention to detail. The photography is intensely personal and close to the ants as they engage in oftentimes private behaviors well hidden from view. For nature enthusiasts, Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants provides a must-see gateway into a secret universe taking place right under our feet.
Directed by: Joe Loncraine, Martin Dohrn