Oceans (2009) dir. Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
By Blair Stewart
2001's Winged Migration was one of the finest nature documentaries made due to an ingenious idea by the filmmakers, Jacques Perrin & Cluzaud. In order to gain access to the migratory patterns of birds the filmmakers raised them from birth, therefore their subjects weren't shy when the time came to roll camera. Soaring above the continents in an ultralight amongst the company of eagles, the documentary gave a fantastical new perspective of life on Earth.
Now, after 5 years of delicate filming, another perspective is shown in Oceans. Plunging deep into the watery two thirds of our planet, the two Jacques strive to bring awareness to the fragile time-bomb awaiting us in the seas, with the North Pacific Gyre (aka "the Great Pacific Garbage Patch") growing to twice the size of a plastic Texas while you read this. As brief narration presupposes the question of why man searches the stars when we haven't yet mastered the seas, the cinema alights with creatures from the deep.
Dive-bombing birds blitzkrieg M.C. Escher schools of fish with dolphins cutting through like apparitions of squeaky grey-blue torpedos. An exodus of baby sea turtles from surf to sea under swooping bird-claws becomes an anthropomorphistic reversal of the D-Day invasion, and in the deep crab vs. shrimp becomes a clash of the titans.
The flexibility required to film sea life may have eliminated bulky 70mm, but the subject matter is worthy of the format, especially when the killer whales arrive. What is captured above water is impressive, further down even more so, but in some of the more spectacular moments an ugliness reared its head: C.G.I. The graceful chaos is helpfully sculpted by digital compositors
alongside nature, which stings during a number of "too good to be true" moments. This practical decision for entertainment/education value doesn't undermine the film as much as a glaring narrative one, wherein Perrin (a famed actor in 50+ years of Euro cinema) and his googly-eyed kid lament for marine life in a space-age museum.
Witnessing the vulnerability of a Dugong in its habitat does much more for my desire to preserve the planet over a close-up of a French brat's tear-ducts. If the film hadn't strayed from its path, Winged Migration would have been surpassed. As it remains, Oceans is a flawed contender that still demands viewing on the big-screen for the awesome scope of nature.