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The ocean is vast and deep and filled with wonder and mystery and so much lies beneath the foaming surf in “Oceans,” the latest exploration by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (“Winged Migration”), that the film’s framing with a young boy standing on a dune, gazing out over the sea, is an awkward and unnecessary device.
The breathtaking footage alone would have sufficed. Unfortunately, the one-note awestruck tone of “Oceans” – unimproved by Pierce Brosnan’s lifeless narration that, at times, borders on the nonsensical — serves as more of a gorgeous sleep-aid than to propel a full-length feature documentary.
The movie is at its best when it just lets the images speak for themselves. A blanket octopus pulsates through the water like a scarf on fire. Clown fish navigate a forest of sea anemones. Asian sheepshead wrasse float in suspended animation and look as if they were drawn by a caricaturist at the county fair. Suspended humpback whales sleep side by side and upside down. In one of the most memorable sequences, dolphins, sharks and whales converge on a school of sardines, while sea birds dive-bomb from above. After watching any one of these sequences, viewers need not be reminded that, “in a very real sense, the ocean is alive.” What other sense is there?
The Jacques have assembled some incredible footage but struggle to find a driving narrative. Their overall point is that the greatest threat to all of this beauty is human malfeasance. But the wonder, and the threat to that wonder’s existence, cannot alone drive a feature-length film. The narration opts for metaphors and similes rather than engage with concrete facts about the animals onscreen.
The film’s locations jump around, and those locations are not always divulged. Instead, the narration offers anthropomorphizing cuteness, such as “parenting takes a lot of patience,” and reminds repeatedly that humans are doing harm. But less repetition and more images like those of a shopping cart at the bottom of the ocean and a whale-shark caught in a net are all that are necessary.
That said, a bland nature documentary with gorgeous imagery beats the heck out of most of what Hollywood has been regurgitating lately. Watching a thousand sequences of another orca plucking a seal off the shore easily beats sitting through a remake of the “A-Team.”
1hr 40min. Rated G.