Just as we have come to expect from nature documentary epics like Planet Earth and Disneynature’s Earth, the visuals from Disneynature’s Oceans is a dazzling and stunning array of underwater imagery in the highest quality. With narration from Pierce Brosnan, the film takes you on a journey to some of the most mesmerizing and uncharted locations on Earth. But not everything is as pretty as it looks. A certain aspect that makes the other documentaries so fascinating is missing and an underlying message of the film is worth questioning the true motive of Oceans.
Before getting into the speculation, it is important to recognize the film explores the wonder and beauty inside the most abundant resource of our planet: water. Nothing matches the scale of what is presented on screen when it comes to underwater photography. Plenty of detractors will blindly claim Planet Earth is still better, but Oceans proves The Discovery Channel does not have a stranglehold on the genre.
Oceans makes our real planet feel conjured up. There are countless moments where I found myself staring at the screen in confusion. Is this real? Did they actually CGI a nature documentary? Or is there simply such beauty and magnificence actually out there I can’t ever fathom it. Certain images will remain in my mind forever, from rocket ships illuminating a cliff full of iguanas to swarms of crabs bracing for an underwater war.
The synergy of sound and music is complex, yet magnificent. Every scene seems to have its own motif, thriving on the events unfolding. An epic battle hymn plays when two unbelievable masses of crabs slowly face off in an all-out war. A gloomy and intense score follows a Killer Whale making quick meals of wandering sea lions. The comedic intrigue of hideous fish just trying to get through the day was met with giggles from youngsters in the audience.
Interestingly though, the sounds from within the film seemed to be manufactured. I could be wrong, but something just wasn’t right. While it could have become a major flaw, it actually adds to the sensation of being in the moment. Certain sounds just don’t travel so well underwater, and others just don’t make sense based on the basic physics of what is happening. Yet, the sounds always create an engrossing sensation of realism and put you as close as the cameras make it feel.
The film opens with a sense of impending storyline. If you’ve ever seen Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, there should be an uncanny resemblance with paced, poetic narration and muffled location sound. Much of the film is reminiscent of Malick’s visionary filmmaking style, especially when Brosnan takes a breather and it is just you and the ocean. Having said that, there is an overarching theme of the entire piece, which leaves humanity, and the film, in question.
March of the Penguins succeeded in telling a compelling story and still giving it extra life and conflict. The problem in Oceans is they try so hard in the beginning to do this, yet gradually lose focus. By the last shot, it was easy to have already forgotten the beginning in order to find out just where the film had gone as a story.
The entire first hour of the 90-minute work constantly reminds us of the incomprehensibility of the ocean. Narrator Pierce Brosnan must have told the audience what they “couldn’t possibly understand” a dozen times. He then reminds the viewer the only way they can grasp the ocean and its grandeur is by continuing to watch the events that transpire. Squirms from the row in front of me suggested not everybody was fond of being told what to think.
Then the last half hour hit. In what can only be referred to as a call to action, the creators of Oceans took it upon themselves to present a beautifully shot, underwater version of those sad, abused puppy dog commercials. Surprisingly, they stayed away from becoming political or calling out names to blame, but rather lay it on all of humanity. Instead of focusing on the people who hunt and kill animals for any number of reasons, Oceans disperses the faults to the everyman for not doing something about it. It all came back to the misunderstanding culture (humans) taking for granted one of the most spectacular parts of our planet (water). According to Oceans, we are letting everything fall apart and yet only we can pull it back together.
When the film truly went beyond its own premise was when it projected the rage and power of the ocean as some sort of vendetta on the human race. Absolutely breathtaking imagery with a fishing vessel trying to overcome massive swells, a la The Perfect Storm, was watered down by giving the ocean a quality it may not be asking for. In a way, it was only a matter of time before the feature gave water human characteristics already labeled on certain creatures of the ocean.
While Disneynature’s Oceans is a worthy follow-up to Disneynature’s Earth, it finds ways to connect to its audience with imagery and disassociate them at the same time with a message too vast for any action to be taken. Viewers sit helplessly as animals tangle in massive nets and seals bump into grocery carts on sea floors, yet the theme suggests we are the only ones who can fix these problems. Okay, but how?
Oceans is clearly something kids will enjoy, but at one moment in the film, every single child in the audience was terrified to the point of tears and screams. If you are bringing a young one to see the film, be wary of moments of intense realism. The moment in question involves newborn baby sea turtles and their desperate sprint for the safety of the ocean. As usual, it is wonderfully shot and the music and sound design turn it into an event, but the terror of children in the audience was frightening in itself.
Absolutely breathtaking imagery holds up for the entire film, with unpredictable visuals around every coral reef. But eventually you begin to wonder where they are going with it all, and when you eventually find out, the revelation may not be one everybody wants to experience. As a representation of the beauty and splendor living under the sea, Oceans is unrivaled and may be the most beautiful nature documentary to date.