Oceans (2009)

Rated G. Documentary. Length: 1 hour 24 min.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to
sport in it.
Psalm 104:24-26

One of many beautiful scenes from Oceans.

Disneynature Films

Co-directors Jacques Cluzaud and French star Jacques Perrin have followed up their exhilarating Winged Migration by pointing their marvelous cameras in the opposite direction from the skies, down—way down, beneath the depths of the sea. Just as in the earlier film their advanced camera technology seemed to place us amidst flying flocks of birds, so now they transport us into the midst of schools of fish and alongside giant whales and other denizens of the deep. “Awesome” has become so clichéd that I hesitate to use it here, but I cannot at the moment think of a better word to describe the beautiful—and often bizarre—creatures so ably pictured.

The label “documentary” really applies just to the middle portion of the film, the first and third sections being more of a meditation upon the wonders of creation. The narration by Pierce Brosnan is pretty inane in many places, and provides little information, other than the names of the creatures we are observing. With marine creatures it is harder to maintain a narrative story, especially when the shots come from such a huge variety of locations, from pole to pole and east to west. Editing the hundreds of shots must have been a monumental task. Little wonder it took several years to complete the film.

It is hard to say which scenes are the most memorable: the blanket octopus that trails a scarlet scarf that looks like it was woven on an oriental loom; the sea slug called the Spanish dancer; the Asian sheepshead wrasse off the coast of Japan; the school of fish so tightly packed that they look like a spinning top; the tender moments between a whale and its infant or between a mother sea lion and its pup; two large groups of crustaceans that seem to march toward each other like great armies and then intermingle like the one of the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings (the sound track’s martial music adds to the effect)—the list could go on and on. Some of the creatures are so bizarre, with eyes at the ends of protruding stalks, that they could be used as the models for sci-fi film aliens, and yet they are from our own planet.

The film, of course, also shows the darker side of nature. It is the smallest that get eaten by the larger creatures. It is not so difficult watching the diving birds or porpoises eating the tiny fish that dart about in great clouds, but a great shark devouring a seal pup or the frigate birds dive-bombing and snatching the newly hatched baby turtles as they scramble toward the sea is something else. However, the greatest threat, we are told, does not come from sea predators, but those living on land: “Human indifference is surely the oceans’ greatest threat.” This environmental message is given without much elaboration. Nor is heavy-handed preaching needed, two visual sequences driving it home better than words: the scene in which unwanted fish and turtles will die needlessly because they are caught along with tuna in giant fishnets; and, closer to shore, a submerged shopping card surrounded by thousands of potentially deadly plastic bags and bottles, the detriment of a wasteful and heedless civilization.

Thanks to the gentle delivery of the environmental plea, the splendor of what we have seen is not diminished. Also, contrary to the impression given in such films as Jaws, we see that some of our fear about the danger under the sea are exaggerated: a human can swim close to a great white shark with no harm. And if you stay through the credits, you will see shots of how the marvelous images were obtained. The one in which a scuba-equipped photographer is photographed next to a giant whale, revealing the immensity of the latter, is especially…well, we will say it again, “Awesome.” We leave the theater with a sense of wonder at the beauty and the strangeness of the ocean, as well as with the hope that we can reverse the trend of the past hundred years.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How would you describe your reaction to the film? Although less adept at telling stories, as in Winged Migrations, how do the filmmakers keep us engaged?

2. Which creature seemed the most beautiful? The most bizarre?

3. What about the way in which some creatures depend on each other? Any “lessons” ?

4. What is implied more than said about the fishing policies of the nations?

5. What do you see as the Biblical basis for concern about the oceans? In addition to the passage from Psalms above, check the Creation and Fall stories in Genesis.

6. To get in touch with agencies concerned about the environment log onto the Disney site at: http://disney.go.com/disneynature/oceans/. You will also find many shots from the film here—the one of the school of porpoises swimming in and out of the water is exciting.