‘Oceans’ is a beautiful but uncertain journey into the deep

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, April 21, 2010 9:31am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Disney had success with last year’s eye-popping compilation of scenes from its “Planet Earth” TV series, titled simply “Earth.” So the new Disney nature documentary “Oceans” ought to be more of the same.

Well, yes and no. Or actually oui and non, as this movie was made by the French production team that created the extraordinary “Winged Migration,” that Oscar-nominated chronicle of birds in flight.

“Oceans” is full of amazing footage of sea animals, but it jettisons the storytelling impulse that ran through “Earth” — and is probably less accessible because of that. Instead, this film’s movement seems random, and it jumps too quickly from one species to another.

The title is misleading, because this one’s all about creatures. The “stars” of underwater nature films are all here: sharks, penguins, dolphins, killer whales. Even as familiar as those beasts are, “Oceans” manages some amazing moments, including the unanticipated entrance of a great white shark lunging through the air as seals fly through the waves.

The footage of whales is cool, with scenes of humpbacks feeding and an incredible shot of a blue whale, the largest creature in the world’s history, gliding along in imperturbable fashion. As the whale’s full length passes beneath the camera, you will be justified in wondering how exactly they got that shot.

Patience and high-tech gear, mostly, as director Jacques Perrin and co-director Jacques Cluzaud spent more than four years filming. Some shots do appear to be computer-enhanced, which lends a bothersome air of cheating to the project; could they really not get what they wanted through photography?

I’d like to believe that the amazing footage of crabs waging a massive war on the sea floor is all real, but once the idea of digital enhancement is introduced, you can’t help having doubts.

Another problem is the narration, spoken by Pierce Brosnan, which blandly generalizes about how little we know about the ocean world, makes a few obligatory points about mankind’s energetic destruction of that world, and mostly overstates what we already see ourselves.

As far as eye candy, “Oceans” delivers. A nighttime cruise through a variety of crustaceans and fishes is a riot of color and weirdness, capped by a snapping duel between a crab and a mantis shrimp. From which we learn one basic rule: Do NOT mess with a mantis shrimp.

Along with sharks attacking sea lions, we also witness cormorants gobbling up baby turtles that waddle across sand, a strange sequence that will probably freak out kids who are looking for nice, cuddly penguins.

It’s a curious movie, overall, with an arbitrary flow and some wonderful footage. For fans of nature documentaries, that may be enough.

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