A film review by Craig J. Koban May 2, 2010


2010, G, 89 mins.


A documentary from Disneynature directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud

I have frequently lamented that too many films today skimp on the basic precepts of storytelling in lieu of multi-million dollar visual eye candy.  

I think that I now must officially eat my words after watching a film like OCEANS.  As with last year’s Earth Day release, EARTH, OCEANS is a marvelous and oftentimes spellbinding journey into little-seen environments of our planet.  One of the many wonders of the film is how it manages to continually astound and amaze with its imagery.  On many levels, if more than fulfills the one requisite trait that I think all docs – nature or not – should aspire to: show us something that we think we are familiar with and then give us a perspective of it that radically makes us rethink our viewpoint.  OCEANS does that to the max.

The film is the product of Disneynature label, an independent subsidiary of Walt Disney Company that, as of last spring, announced that they will be releasing Earth-themed documentaries every Earth Day for the indefinite future.  The first film that they released under this new moniker was EARTH, which was made under the auspices of British producer/director Alastair Fothergill (his past credits include the now legendary BBC documentary PLANET EARTH and BLUE PLANET).  Despite that film’s overtly cutesy vibe with its portrait of creatures from all corners of the world, EARTH was an utterly astonishing feat of immersion: it was nearly impossible to take your eyes off of all of its otherworldly and exotic sights.

OCEANS is the next logical transition from EARTH and it is the product of directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (the geniuses behind WINGED MIGRATION) and editors Catherine Mauchain and Vincent Schmitt.  As was the case with EARTH, OCEANS was a mammoth filmmaking undertaking:  Budgeted at nearly $60 million U.S., filming in over 50 different watery locations, and made under a period of four years, the film takes a deeply intimate examination of the planet’s five oceans and it focuses on life both familiar and completely foreign.  While doing that, OCEANS manages to reflect the utmost respect for aquatic life and the power of the ocean itself (which is no coincidence: the film is released to coincide with the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day), as well as pontificating on the negative things that humanity has done to affect the everyday activities of these animals.

The film is eerily hypnotic right from the first minute, where we see long tracking shots of the ocean tides and waves at their most crushingly powerful and majestic.  After those splendid images, the film settles down into highlighting what exists beneath – and above – the surface of these waters and the more the film ensnares you in the more one thing becomes readily apparent: the advances in tools and technology have made these types of films take gigantic quantum leaps.  The French filmmaking dynamic duo has employed the latest next-gen underwater and digital cameras that have captured detail that perhaps would have been next-to-impossible with conventional lenses.  What’s so powerful is the film’s sense of texture: the vibrant hues, the pulsating membranes, the coarse surfaces, the stunning fluidity of movement…and so on.  What OCEANS does with a staggering versatility is to never dwell on the same sights over and over again.  The film is generous for what it shows you in the frame, oftentimes to jaw-dropping awe.

Perhaps even more so than EARTH, OCEANS is a repository of unbelievably intimate images and moments: I marveled at the scope and proximity that the filmmakers of EARTH demonstrated with their focus on terrestrial life, but I think that what the two “Jacques” do here is something wholeheartedly more impressive.  At one point in the film we see two undeniable awesome moments: Firstly, a cameraman – suited up in full scuba gear – is shown swimming alongside a shark twice his size without a care in the world towards his own safety and, even more beyond belief, one soul swims alongside a whale that – in one breathtaking instance – gives us a shocking sense of scale to the creature.  The shot never cuts away but instead lingers on how puny the camera operator is to the massive visage of the apartment-sized whale.  It’s one thing to capture moments of grandeur above water, but what the makers of OCEANS have done…that’s a whole other level of intrepid filmmaking.

Of course, we just don’t get unbelievable images of the largest oceanic life – even though the shots of the biggest animal ever to occupy Earth, the blue whale, really make you ponder how small humans really are on this planet – but we also get gorgeous cinematography of the most minute and bizarre of marine life.  Some that I stared in bewilderment at include, in random order, a stonefish that looks conspicuously like a rock that can lash out at its prey with a lightning precision and lethality; an equally ravenous cuttlefish that shoots out its maw to nab unsuspecting victims; the hauntingly beautiful mobula rays that undulate through the watery depths with their angelic movements; an incredibly up-close viewpoint of what star fish look like when maneuvering across the ocean’s floors; a magnificent montage of a squadron of dolphins lunging in and out of the water; and perhaps the most incredible – if not bizarre – is a sequence involving what appears to be thousands of spider crabs colliding with one another without any rhyme or reason: as the camera pulls back to the film’s most unforgettable moment, we see a ocean floor completely blanketed by these creepy crawlers.

If there were one thing that OCEANS definitely improves upon from EARTH than it would be that it rightfully does not go out of its way to portray its life as heart-tuggingly adorable and quant.  Part of my problem with EARTH is that bloodshed and animal-on-animal violence (an obvious fact of life for these animals) was seriously muted and sanitized.  The great thing about OCEANS is that it manages to simultaneously make its subjects look exquisite and inviting while showcasing them at their most deadly and foreboding.  Look at one scene, for instance, where we see a faction of newly born sea turtles (awwwww) that fumble their way from the beaches to the waters…but 90 per cent of them are stopped because of diving frigate birds that snatch the helpless newborns for a mid-day snack (on the soundtrack we can hear the tiny-tortoises squealing “yelp!” as they are snagged with a ferocity and limitless speed by the hungry birds of prey).  Then there is an imposing moment – shot in slow motion – where a great white shark swallows a very adorable seal in one famished bite.  

One word: cooooooool.

OCEANS had two faults, though, the first of which would be the narration by Pierce Brosnon, an actor that no doubt has a very distinctive voice, but his inflections are so soft-spoken, monotone, and annoyingly drawn-out that it sounds like he’s just be anestheticized.  Some of his line readings are real unintentional howlers, like this one: “The question we should ask is not ‘what is the ocean’ but rather ‘who are we?’” Ouch.  Less annoying, but equally problematic, is the film’s dodgy handling of its ecological-friendly themes: it shows socking images of human pollutants that permeate the oceans (a shopping cart at one point impedes the migration one creature), but the message of “human polluters are bad” is kind of woefully simplified here without much embellishment. 

Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles, because the impressive display of oceanic imagery here continually impresses.  OCEANS triumphantly appeases on two levels: kids will easily find amazement in the film’s beguiling sights and adult viewers will find themselves flabbergasted by the filmmaking resources that went on behind the scenes.  And, praise Poseidon himself, but how fantastic is it that OCEANS is not in 3D?  Kudos need to be given to the directors and Disney for not succumbing to recent pressures to upconvert this footage to a deceitfully shabby third dimension.  I shutter at the thought of the results.  Do yourself a favor: seek out OCEANS on as big of a 2D screen as you can and prepare to be thoroughly engrossed for 90 minutes.  It may take several hours afterwards for your mouth to close.


CrAiGeR's other 



EARTH  (2009 jjj


AFRICAN CATS  (2011 jj1/2


CHIMPANZEE  (2012 jj





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