Disney might still be best known as the king of cartoons, but five or six decades ago, the studio was equally renowned for their feature-length live-action nature films, such as the Oscar-winning Beaver Valley and the wonderful Perri, the squirrel-adventure film that nabbed a Golden Bear in Berlin.
Disney rebooted its nature-based documentary arm last year with the release of the good-looking but underwhelming Earth, but all is forgiven with the newest entry, Oceans, which was shot over, in, and under the watery wilds of five different seas.
Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to check out films about the ocean and its inhabitants on myriad cable stations. But I don’t care how big your home entertainment center is — nothing is going to take the place of a huge movie screen to capture the majesty that this film goes after and gets.
From the first shot of cameras following a dinosaur-like marine iguana as it floats through the sea, to one of the final scenes, which gives “swimming with sharks” a whole new meaning, this is an awe-inspiring celebration of another world. Down there, we meet creatures so alien to anything on land that this could easily pass for a science-fiction film.
There’s nothing to do but gawk in wonder at a glowing, pulsating bloom of jellyfish or a bright orange magic carpet-like blanket octopus. Most viewers will likely gasp or at least utter “Wow!” at the sight of the delicate leafy sea dragon or the hunting prowess of the mantis shrimp — which is one truly nasty crustacean.
A big chunk of the film focuses on the fact that it’s a fish-eat-fish world down there. But it’s not much different when the cameras come up for air, fixing their lenses on hapless sea lions being gobbled down by great white sharks and orcas, or on frigate birds going after newborn sea turtles as they make a mad dash from the beach to the safety of the water.
There’s some entertaining and smartly written narration, delivered in a relaxed, casual manner by Pierce Brosnan. He might offer a bit of information on a certain species of fish, address the variety of underwater life by noting that “down here, it’s like nature has given everything a try,” or state that “anyone who knows the sea will tell you of her power.”
That last part is a prompt for the film to look at the habitat instead of the inhabitants. We see gigantic waves crashing onto shore, wrapping around lighthouses, and threatening to swallow small boats and big ships.
When it isn’t gazing at or explaining what’s down there, Oceans shifts, smoothly and without any lecturing, to the environmental side of things. The blue fin tuna is in danger of extinction due to overfishing. Many other sea creatures are getting caught in the huge tuna nets. Satellite images show polluted rivers emptying into oceans. There’s mention of rising water temperatures, melting ice floes, and the question of what will happen to those who live there.
But, intones Brosnan, on a positive note, “The will to protect them has never been so strong.”
Some parts of the film will make you laugh (slipping and sliding penguins), others will give you the willies (battalions of spider crabs attacking each other, like marauding armies in a Sam Peckinpah film). One jaw-dropping sequence, of a massive blue whale gliding by the camera, is reminiscent of the huge imperial ship in the opening scene of Star Wars.