Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:27

Release Date: 4/22/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 22, 2010

There are some simply, absolutely hypnotic moments in Oceans. Fish form a whirlpool-like funnel. Two schools of fish merge with precision. A microscopic view of the water reveals an image that looks like those from space.

Oceans is Disneynature's follow-up to Earth, although the tone of the two couldn't be more different. Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud oversee this sprawling inspection of life under the sea with few attempts to anthropomorphize its subjects. The voice-over is sparse and more interested in dealing directly with the imagery on the screen than helping the audience along.

The film's narrative efforts are a bit scattershot, surely the result of trying to condense the life, allure, danger, beauty, and mystery of ecosystems that make up almost three-quarters of Earth into an hour and a half of material. Take into account that half of that is almost 10,000 feet deep, and one realizes that the film only scratches the surface of what there is to discover, explore, and examine.

Soon after showing spectacular footage of waves crashing in different directions in the middle of the ocean, a marine iguana on the Galapagos Islands watches with an unaware stare as a shuttle launches into orbit. Humans moved the object of exploration into space midway through the last century, and Perrin and Cluzaud's film, perhaps above all its other arguments and stories, makes clear that while we are heading toward the stars to discover the mysteries of the universe, there is still much to find at the heart of our planet.

The ocean, after all, is where life on Earth began, intones narrator Pierce Brosnan, affecting a genuine tone of respectful wonder throughout. These early sequences, watching formations of jellyfish, horseshoe crabs wandering onto the shore—before reminding us that their ancestors millions of years ago would never have been able to do such—and that aforementioned extreme close-up look at a crustacean egg hovering like a planet amidst the stars of even smaller particles, are a reminder of the water's importance for life then and now.

From there, the film begins its study of members of the ocean family. A pod of dolphins races toward its food, and gulls appear overhead, diving into the water like torpedoes. It is, indeed, a feeding frenzy, and this is even before the whales and sharks show up to join in the feast.

Perrin and Cluzaud employ an extensive array of underwater shots—the gulls dive-bombing to feed, the trek of the marine iguana to land, and long sequences roaming around a coral reef are just a few examples—and they are stunning to behold.

The mass dining is an example of what some call the harsh realities of nature, but the film wisely understands that such things are merely the realities. The context of such events is grounded in distanced observation. When baby sea turtles hatch from their nest under the sand of the beach, they begin that treacherous crawl toward the sea. Birds of prey circle overhead, grabbing the tiny creatures en masse. One out of thousand makes it to the water; cuteness is not a factor for survival. That one, which triumphantly swims out to see as the birds swoop down unable to grab it, is enough to maintain the species.

The film spends a lot of time in coral reefs, places where nature decided " to try everything." All sorts of colorful species inhabit these areas, from the chameleon-like cuttlefish, to the innocent-looking but deadly stonefish, to a sea slug named the "Spanish dancer" for its swim that looks like a flapping skirt.

There's an intrinsically conservationist bent to material like this, and the point is made more directly with startling satellite images showing the runoff of pollution from streams to rivers to the ocean. A sea lion hovers around a submerged shopping cart in dingy, dirty water. A sea turtle is trapped in a net along with the fishermen's actual goal, the already critical endangered bluefin tuna. As the net is drawn up, a recognizable cloud of red saturates the crystal blue.

Perrin and Cluzaud even handle these images with a subtle, haunting tone. Oceans may be short on the factual information of cable nature shows, but this gathering of images is mesmerizing.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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