Movie review: 'Oceans' documentary only skims the surface
By Rachel Saslow
Friday, April 23, 2010
An orange and white clownfish peeks out from behind a sea anemone. A theater full of delighted children shrieks, "Nemo!"
Only a horrible person would slam a movie that can cause such joy. She would have to be a true Grinch.
Well, ho, ho, ho, the Grinch is here to steal Earth Day.
"Oceans," the French-made Disneynature movie that was released on Earth Day, is 87 minutes of gorgeous visuals of curious sea creatures set to soaring orchestral music. The camera operators deserve praise, as they surely faced technical challenges, danger and days of boredom waiting for the right shots.
But for all "Oceans" does to please the eyes and ears, it does nothing to engage the brain. The narrator, Pierce Brosnan, rarely tells viewers about the wildlife's mating rituals, hunting tricks or even which ocean they live in. Instead, he says such things as "Big fish eat little fish." Wow, thanks for clearing that up, 007!
"Life," an 11-part nature series narrated by Oprah Winfrey, just finished its run on the Discovery Channel. This television show did a far better job at documenting the wonders of the deep. For example, both "Life" and "Oceans" feature the otherworldly weedy sea dragon. In "Oceans," you gaze upon the yellow, tubular animal as it swims among ocean plants. Pleasant enough. But in "Life," you learn about and watch the sea dragon's elaborate mating dance, an elegant ballet of sorts in which the animals mirror each other's movements for hours.
There's no mating in "Oceans," with the exception of a pair of turtles. (But they may have just been swimming funny.) The violence is also neutered so as not to scare the kiddos. The filmmakers manage to turn a shark catching a sea lion in its teeth into a bloodless event. Two exceptions: a school of sardines under attack by air and sea (both dolphins and sharks) and a scene of birds picking off baby sea turtles crawling across a white sandy beach to the ocean.
"Oceans" has neither narrative arc nor organizing principles of any kind. It's not like the film starts in the Pacific and travels to the Indian or starts in shallow water and plunges deeper as it goes on. Instead, it flits from creature to creature with no transitions in between. For instance, Brosnan mentions near the very end that there are some problems in this watery paradise, such as pollution, overfishing and the melting polar ice caps. The movie jumps from an image of a grocery cart chilling on the sea floor to . . . penguins slipping on ice! The kids squeal and giggle.
"Merely knowing these creatures exist isn't enough to tell the stories of their lives," Brosnan says. My point exactly.
Contains wildlife violence. 87 minutes.