Picks and Pans Review: Realm of the Alligator

UPDATED 07/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

There are moments when this documentary captures too well the languorous life-style of its subject, the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia and Florida. Much of it is fascinating, and the colorful, moody photography by Alan Degen and Joe Seamans is evocative. Yet the 59-minute tape—originally a 1986 National Geographic TV special—drags at times. Various creatures rouse themselves occasionally to devour a neighbor, and there are whimsical moments. Narrator Pernell Roberts notes, for instance, that the Okefenokee is the home of Pogo the opossum, the comic strip character created by Walt Kelly. Another sequence involves Kent Vliet, a biologist who studies the swamp's gators by climbing in the water with them and stretching out in the shallows. At one point the camera zooms in on his meaty foot sticking out of the water, as a gator in a snacking mood might see it. The tape faces a dilemma common to wildlife documentaries. The narration stresses how rarely gators attack man. (It was made, of course, before this June's incident in which a 4-year-old girl was killed by a 10½-foot alligator in Englewood, Fla.) But producer John Paling gives in to the temptation to dramatize the tape, using music and camera angles to suggest how menacing the bizarre reptiles are—especially at night, when their sensitive-to-light eyes glow like beacons. Despite the soggy pace and puffery, there's lots to learn about everything from the female gators' ferocious maternal instincts to the tactics of carnivorous plants. Children need to be prepared for such scenes as a gator attacking and eating a corn snake, but this might be the ideal thing to watch on a slow summer day, when the air outside is thick and damp and the transition to the mood of the great swamp is not all that hard. (Vestron, $29.98)

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