At this point, there are as many oceanic documentaries as there are stars in the sky, or perhaps fish in the sea. “Oceans” is the latest entry in the big bottomless blue sweepstakes and while it doesn’t necessarily redefine the genre, this Disneynature release is more artful and considered than its competition, permitting audiences a far more meditative take on the mysteries of the deep than the average educational film would allow.
Last Earth Day, Disneynature rolled out “Earth,” a pleasant enough compilation of frolicking animals and their rituals, but the footage was noticeably reheated from cable broadcasts, leaving the final product lacking a needed pulse of awe to help push the wonders of planetary life. Perhaps sensing fatigue (or finding better nature film producers), Disneynature tries again with “Oceans,” which, to the untrained eye, assumes a far more consistent depiction of the titular habitat. At least this one doesn’t feel like I just happened upon it flipping from the Food Network on my way to an episode of “Ninja Warrior.”
From French filmmakers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, “Oceans” doesn’t feature the added scale of IMAX or the cheap boost of 3-D, instead taking enormous cinematographic care to present the waters of the world as sharply and heavenly as a regular old 2-D presentation will allow. There are some breathtaking shots here worth the price of admission, plunging viewers into these abyssal underwater kingdoms to spy sea life engaged in the daily business of being. What’s fantastic about “Oceans” is that it’s less behavior-centered and more fixated on floating grandeur, allowing the graceful movement of whales, dolphins, sea lions, and various fish buffets (oh, those poor sardines) to do most of the talking for the immaculate footage (the gaps are filled in with contemplative narration from Pierce Brosnan).
“Oceans” takes to the air as well, highlighting the birds that prowl the waters waiting for an opportunity to seize the perfect bite. Matters get downright Hitchcockian during one sequence, where a nest of baby sea turtles hatches in broad daylight, allowing nearby birds a chance to zoom in and snatch up dinner as the turtles scramble for the safety of the ocean. It’s an astonishing sequence of suspense, while also pumping some needed circle-of-life reminders into the proceedings to wake up viewers that are more impressionable.
The footage here hits all the mystery and miracles of the oceans, illustrating routines and the natural splendor of the aquatic stars. Nevertheless, the real significance is one of environmental responsibility, with focus moving over to manmade pollution and how catastrophe is imminent if habits don’t change. This message is critical, implemented well by the filmmakers, who embrace the power that comes from visual evidence, which is far more effective than simplistic preaching. The patience lends “Oceans” a more challenging tone, putting the burden of change on the viewer, not just passing it off to humankind in general.