Whether or not the documentary “Oceans” beats us over the head with a conservationist message is subjective. If you think that all is well with life on Planet Earth, you’ll probably think the film is preachy. If you believe that we’re killing the planet, and ourselves along with it, you might think that co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (“Winged Migration“) could have used the bully pulpit to greater effect.
But neither opinion takes anything away for the magnificence of the cinematography, which is awe-inspiring. Whether shooting in the sky, on the water or under it, the camera crews deliver images unlike, in their beauty, anything we’ve ever seen before in an oceanographic documentary. Glorious as they were in their time, this is no Jacques-Yves Cousteau TV special.
But the film is a slight disappointment in one notable way: It isn’t so much about the oceans as it is the animals that live in them. Even the plants get short shrift, and the animals with which we spend the bulk of our time tend to be the usual suspects: whales, dolphins, sharks, octopi, sea lions, turtles, etc. It’s like making a documentary called “North America” and then dedicating 80 percent of the footage to human celebrities.
Lip service is paid to the power of all that water crashing along in one direction ” we get some incredible shots of a ship at sea being buffeted by a storm ” but we don’t see any actual damage being done to the vessel, and there is no mention of hurricane or typhoon destruction. The film is intended to be a pop-science positive experience for audiences of all ages, so, except for a sequence showing baby sea turtles getting dive-bombed by hungry birds and a few shots of sharks catching some yummy sea lions, the movie doesn’t offer up much to make the little ones squirm.
Pierce Brosnan (“The Ghost Writer“) provides the sparse narration, but his voice never gets in the way of ” nor substitutes for ” the visuals. I’d never paid attention to the soft, comfortable quality of his voice before. Not silky, but more like warm flannel on a cool night ” unless he’s singing ABBA songs, of course, then his voice is more like burlap underwear.
The original music is by Bruno Coulais (“Coraline,” “The Secret of Kells“) and it sets off the visuals wonderfully. It reminded me at times of the way the Disney animated classic “Fantasia” was constructed, with the animators dreaming up visuals to illustrate classical music. Only here, Coulais has conjured up music to interpret stunning images.
One more observation about the audience: At my screening, it was comprised mostly of parents and young children, and everyone was quiet and attentive. No crying, no endless questioning about why what’s happening is happening, and very few trips to the bathroom. In other words, the kids were as riveted by what was on the screen as the adults were. Now that’s a good family film. “Doug Bentin