To really know the ocean, says narrator Pierce Brosnan, you have to see it, taste it and live it to feel its power. “Oceans,” the spectacular new Disney nature film doesn’t literally let you feel or taste the sea, but its beautiful and intimate photography will get you as close as possible to experiencing the ocean without actually getting wet.
Released just in time for Earth Day, “Oceans” is the evolution of “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” Technological advances allow “Winged Migration” co-directors Jacques Cluzaud and French star Jacques Perrin to go deeper and stay longer to capture a vivid portrait of life in the sea. Not strictly a documentary—some scenes are staged—it is more a travelogue of the earth’s oceans and their citizens.
It may not fit the traditional definition of documentary but it certainly is cinematic. With a minimum of narration—the weakest part of the film—they present a dazzling array of images from a spectacular ballet of dolphins, diving birds and a school of sardines to a spider crab showdown that looks like an underwater version of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. And there’s drama too. A scene with sea turtle hatchlings and a flock of hungry frigate birds wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock film, but it’s bloodless. There’s nothing here that will upset the little ones.
It is a representation of life at its most basic. Sometimes it’s as brutal as a Tarantino revenge drama—a mantis shrimp pulls an arm off a crab and eats it in front of him. But often it’s eye-poppingly beautiful with close-ups of creatures that look like they sprung from the depths of H. R. Giger ‘s imagination—there are as many strange beasts here as in almost any sci fi movie—and impressive wide shots of cascading schools of fish and dolphins leaping in and out of the water.
It’ll entertain the eye, but it probably won’t engage the brain in the same way. There isn’t much in the sense of educational information—for instance, we’re told that the humpback whale is majestic and that penguins aren’t very good “figure skaters” and not much more—but it should spark kid’s interest in the ocean and will certainly fire their imaginations. If nothing else it’ll make adults crave sashimi.
The inevitable eco message about humans polluting the sea is effectively illustrated by a shot of a sea lion frolicking with a rusted shopping cart, but like the educational component of the film it’s more a starting point for conversation with the kids over fish sticks after the movie than a complete lesson in conservation.
Much of the pleasure of “Oceans” is derived from seeing it on the big screen. The scale of the screen pales compared to the size of the ocean, but it is as up-close-and-personal as most of us will ever get to these strange and often wonderful creatures.