2010-04-30 / Dining & Entertainment

“Oceans”

Remember 2007’s visually stunning documentary “Earth”? Well, “Oceans” is quite similar, just wetter. In terms of cinematography, “Oceans” is a topnotch, family-oriented, mind-expanding treat. In terms of a learning experience—well, let’s just call it Aquanautics 101, more eye candy than relevant info.

Nothing wrong with that, but for those who yearn for more than just a passing glance at the astounding inhabitants of our planet’s five oceans, this film is merely an appetizer.

There’s little doubt of Disney’s marketing brilliance, I suspect “Oceans” is simply a calling card, a prelude to what will likely become a boxed set, similar to the 11-DVD “Planet Earth” set (2006) that preceded the theatrical release of “Earth.”

In my opinion, the BBC’s “Planet Earth” series is one of the most extraordinary and essential documentary films ever made, a must for classrooms and home film libraries. Whether “Oceans” expands to include a more in-depth, equally relevant DVD set remains to be seen. Given the film’s remarkable effort, I suspect an extended collection will be forthcoming.

Co-directed by Jacques Perrin, who also directed the exceptional “Winged Migration” (“Le Peuple Migrateur”) in 2001, “Oceans” is a marvelous glimpse of life below the waves. It gets up close and personal with a host of magnificent and rarely seen creatures, documenting their lives (and sometimes deaths) and the often peculiar habits of their existence.

While “Oceans” is a family film, I suspect children under the age of 4 or 5 will be bored. (There’s minimal bloodshed. An occasional Orca snatches a hapless seal, but the action is quick and the cameras do not linger.) And while there are some kidfriendly sequences—fighting crabs, dancing dolphins, spooky sharks—the brisk, matter-of-fact sequencing, however phenomenal for older kids and adults, will prove less interesting.

For true aquatic aficionados, “Oceans” will provide too little earnest information about the creatures we’re viewing. I don’t blame the film; covering Earth’s five oceans in under 90 minutes is a daunting task. Still, we landlubbers must be content with watching exceptional photography, viewing part of the planet that most of us— those not donning scuba gear— will never witness.

For environmentalists, “Oceans” makes an earnest yet minimal attempt to point out how neglect, pollution and overfishing are damaging this essential natural resource. There’s the obligatory fish-in-the-net sequence and the baby seal swimming through a sea of plastic rubbish, but for the most part, the film looks not at what we’ve helped destroy but at what remains pristine and untouched. For those hoping that “Oceans” is a call to arms, it’s not—it’s more an uplifting, fascinating travelogue.

However, one possible farreaching benefit of films like “Oceans” and “Earth”—and this reviewer’s personal wish—is that zoos will someday be rendered obsolete. To those of us who’ve witnessed bottle-nosed dolphins laconically paddling around bare holding tanks and then caught even a quick glimpse of a school frolicking in the Pacific waves, there’s no question where wildlife belongs.

To view these creatures—all creatures—unharmed and unfettered in a film like “Oceans” provides a far more gratifying (not to mention humane) experience. Maybe it’s time we did free Willy.

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