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Oceans focuses on the interconnectedness of humans and nature, but the environmental message is deliberately low-key, with the assumption that a few well-chosen images will have the greatest impact.

4 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
  • Written by Christophe Cheysson, Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, François Sarano, Stéphane Durand, Laurent Debas and Laurent Gaude
  • Narrated by Pierce Brosnan
  • Classification: G

Two armies of spider crabs face off on the ocean floor and then suddenly fall on one another, twisting pincers and legs in an undulating battle. Dozens of newly hatched sea turtles scamper for their lives to the ocean as birds dive-bomb and pick them off. A pair of polka-dotted garden eels stand upright to perform a swaying samba dance.

There are two recurrent reactions in watching the new documentary, Oceans: First, how on earth did they get that shot? Second, who knew we were sharing the planet with so many beautiful and bizarre creatures?

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The answer to the first question is time, technology and patience. French team of Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (the team behind the 2001 film, Winged Migration) spent seven years, four of them in gathering footage on more than 70 expeditions. They used cameras that allowed them to move intimately among the fish and animals in the ocean, sometimes taking months to capture a brief segment.

The movie opens with children scrambling across sand dunes, and one boy stopping to look at the ocean: "What is the ocean?" asks narrator Pierce Brosnan. The answer, he says, is that you have to immerse yourself in the ocean to understand it.

The film's organization is dictated by emotional rhythms more than any pedagogical plan. We hop about from clownfish to sea lions, penguins and sharks, otters and an assortment of wonderful oddities: blanket octopus that appear to be trailing long silk scarves, or lionfish, spiked and striped like gaudy carnival dancers.

There are life-and-death dramas, moments of playfulness and tenderness, which create an ever-increasing sense of wonder. There is one scene of vast choreography - as dolphin herd sardines into a bait ball like a spinning top, while birds plunge down like spears through the water, picking off the surface fish. And then whales arrive to crash the party - shot from above, below and at the surface of the water, accompanied by an appropriately symphonic score from French composer Bruno Coulais.

The final third of the film focuses on the interconnectedness between humans and nature, in some respects a challenge here, given that these fish exist in a realm few human beings ever visit. One solution is to leave the planet entirely, in a satellite shot that shows the pollution oozing from the world's rivers into the oceans. Another is to show a diver, swimming easily beside a nonchalant shark. The environmental message is deliberately low-key - a brief illustration of the massive collateral damage of trawling nets; a telling image of a seal swimming past a shopping cart on the ocean bottom - with the reasonable assumption that a few well-chosen images are going to mean more to the film's young audience than a litany of dire facts.

Occasionally, Oceans indulges in hokiness in its efforts to make the message of environmental care seem both personally important and adventurous. One shot, no doubt created in post-production, defines the spirit of the film; it's an image of a rocket blasting to space, but reflected in the eye of a marine iguana whose mournful expression seems to say: "But what about us?"

Disney has promised to make a contribution to The Nature Conservancy to save coral reefs "in honour of every guest who sees Oceans during opening week [tomorrow April 22 through April 28]" Somewhere a garden eel may be doing a dance of gratitude.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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