A Bug's Life Lived Very, Very Large

Hierodula, a large praying mantis is one of the stars of the 3D film "Bugs."
Film producer Phil Streather recalls a nephew holding up a jar of stick bugs and announcing: "Bugs are way cool!"

At that moment Streather realized the appeal a giant-screen movie about insects would have.

The result, "Bugs!," premiering Friday at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, proves his nephew right - bugs are way cool.

And shown in 3-D on the massive IMAX screen, it's a bug's life lived very, very large.

Viewed through special lenses, the 3-D gives the illusion of colorful butterflies flitting through the audience and a spider sliding down its silk just inches from the viewer - close enough, perhaps, to make Little Miss Muffet uneasy.

But most viewers will learn a lot about the most common life form on earth, insects, and how the world looks from their point of view.

Filmed in Borneo, with close-ups shot at a studio in England, the movie follows the lives of Papilio, a butterfly, and Hierodula, a praying mantis, from their hatching through growth, matings and an eventual encounter with each other in the rain forest.

They lead very different lives for two bugs born near one another in the same abandoned shack.

Papilio, destined to become a butterfly with red, black and white wings, emerges from a single egg as a tiny caterpillar, camouflaged as a bird dropping.

She consumes the egg case for protein and then begins munching on her host citrus leaf, growing until it's time to form a cocoon and become a butterfly.

Hierodula's birth is shared with as many as 200 brothers and sisters who emerge from their giant egg sac as fully formed mantids - though very little ones.

Soon they are off on their own, hunting for live food. In one scene a screen-filling mantis snatches up a fly and consumes it, starting with the best parts, the head and insides. Later Hierodula mates with a female mantis, a procedure fraught with danger. Often a careless male loses his head in these encounters, though this one ends safely.

Their names are taken from the Latin names for these particular insects, Papilio memnon, the Green Mormon butterfly, and Hierodula membranacea, the giant Asian mantis.

In other scenes, male rhinoceros beetles battle for the favor of a female, millions of bats fill the sky seeking their nightly feast of insects and a variety of beetles and other bugs climb through the forest.

Terminix - the termite and pest control company - is a major financial backer of "Bugs!" Vice President Steve Good stressed that the company is only interesting in killing insects that invade the home. "We recognize and cherish the role that most bugs play in our ecosystem," he said.

After its world premiere in Washington the film, narrated by British actress Dame Judi Dench, opens March 18 in Bristol, England. It is expected to show in large-format theaters around the world over the next few years.

By Randolph E. Schmid