Natural Selection is not an option anymore. 

American Humane’s documentary, Escape From Extinction, is an insightful dive into the modern zoological practices which are helping our animal world thrive – but a partial one at that. Narrated by Academy Award Winner, Dame Helen Mirren, we are taken through time and history, in an attempt to showcase the work that needs to be done to save over 1 million endangered species. 

Very much a Pro-Zoo film, which focuses on shedding positivity on animal captivity, yet fails to show a two-sided argument, or a full picture on the topics discussed. Directly produced by an animal conservation organisation, this film was bound to raise some criticism – such as PETA’s comment on their “notorious failure to protect animals used in the entertainment industry.”

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There is no doubt that the modern zoo, or aquarium, is a place of conservation and scientific discovery, but American Humane’s choice to include interviews with controversial organisations such as Sea World, gave the wrong message. Infamous for the exposing Netflix documentary Blackfish, Sea World has suffered their fair share of attacks (and still do), and would not be the obvious choice to advocate for a piece on animal welfare.

Using rare footage of endangered species, from all seven continents, from the oceans, lakes, and rivers – the content is good. It’s captivating and eye-opening, however, the frequent interviews with leading animal welfare specialists and conservation scientists seem to overtake. The important and impressive work being done is undeniable, but the advertisement feel of the interviews felt at times too cheesy, and odd in comparison to the other footage used.

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Black and white footage of animal rights activists are portrayed negatively – with protestors appearing un-intelligent, and aggressive. Obviously, from a conservation perspective, the protests against captivity are at times damaging, but the interviewees attack the activists and inform the audience that they are ill-informed and that captivity is not what they think is.

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A key reference used by the researchers and conservation scientists interviewed was the captive killer whale – Keiko – who starred in Free Willy (1993). He was released into the wild after animal rights campaigning but later died as he could not successfully integrate. This message is used in the film to communicate the importance of conservation, and captivity in some cases – but does fail to acknowledge the activists’ opinions or the fact that many endangered species shouldn’t have been captured in the first place.

Escape From Extinction does what it says on the tin. The film delivers impactful statements and statistics on the human-made disaster: mass extinction. How did this happen? What does this mean? What can we do? It’s all answered. But, it does seem to miss the mark. 

Escape From Extinction is released in selected cinemas from 17th September/Digital platforms 18th October/DVD 25th October. 

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