BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Dec 8th, 2010 •

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Silly me; I expected a serene, meditative experience with this Disney Nature BluRay, like some of the ones I used to enjoy as a child, with anthropomorphic narration accompanying the images. I’d failed to notice that one or two reviews categorized it as a ‘thriller.’ Well, thrilling it is; meditative, it ain’t…

There have been so many docs about the eternal sea. Jacques Cousteau popularized the ocean for all of us, the way Marlin Perkins popularized zoos in the 50s & 60s, before he was bitten live, on camera by, I believe, a coral snake. Quite the ‘TV’ adventure; I remember it well (as my memory permits).

But still, with all the IMAX dolphins, and Cameron’s THE ABYSS, I wasn’t quite prepared for this. There’s a shot (one of many of equal power) where the camera is positioned below an undersea slab of rock jutting up into frame, and slowly, the head of a sea creature becomes visible above the rock, then the whole giant animal glides overhead. Now tell me…how did they do that? How many hours did the cameraperson(s) have to wait for that moment? Or did they have a dozen fish-wranglers steering the aquatic beast into just that position to get the very most from that angle? Or was it the 56 people listed under the heading ‘Visual Effects’ who made this happen? It was akin to a sophisticated Hollywood set-up, visceral, suspenseful, framed and directed for maximum emotional effect on an audience.

And that’s generally the way the entire film unfolds. It’s an extraordinary piece of work. IMDB says the foreign release was twenty minutes longer. 84 minutes is certainly sufficient to transport us to another world, and in BluRay, really immerse us in the experience as much as AVATAR immersed us in the mise-en-scene of that other-worldly planet. But I wouldn’t mind seeing the complete version some time. This one dwells mainly on the elements of wind and water, and the life forms that exist therein. If a baby walrus takes its first swim, the camera is above water to see its tentative foray to the edge of the ice, and then an underwater camera picks up the action as its head goes below the surface: two camerapersons waiting for just the right moment.

A great whale leaps out of the ocean into the air, then crashes down – just like Monstro did in PINOCCHIO…only how did the Disney animators know it would happen exactly like that back in 1940? Was it intuition? Whatever it was, they got it right down to the last cascading wave.

Swarms of fish in kaleidoscopic underwater ballets perform so intricately, and in such swirling, glinting, and vast formations, that I thought for sure I was watching FANTASIA 2010 (don’t start salivating – it was just an analogy; I have no info about another FANTASIA being in the works).

The narration, the tone of which brings the film down a peg in the manner of the Disney True Life Adventures of old, is provided by Pierce Brosnan, who delivers his lines with dramatic verve. He also makes at least one mistake, calling a sea anemone a ‘sea anenemy.” I checked it several times to see if I were mistaken,, but no, they just must not have caught it. Further to this aspect of the film, consider how interesting it would have been to include, as extra track options, the Japanese narration (Rie Miyazawa), and the German version (Matthias Brandt – son of former chancellor of West Germany Willy Brandt). As it is, they do include the French narration by director Jacques Perrin, and the Spanish narration by Pedro Armendariz Jr., You can also access annotations by related authorities as lower screen filmed interruptions – best for a third or fourth viewing.

The BluRay drowns us in Bruno Coulais’ lush score, which brings out the wonder, power and beauty of the deep, and gives continuity to the montages. while the hyper sharp image deluges us in sensory impact, and you can taste the salt spray in the sound mix. It’s a disc I can’t wait to share with friends.

And just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken about this film, that perhaps all recent sea docs across the board were utilizing technology this monumentally, I pulled out several other recent H20-related docs and compared.

OCEAN ODYSSEY is a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History presentation, released by PBS. It’s an hour long, with a half hour doc on how it was made. In it, two old deep-sea-diving friends – Feodor Pitcairn and Bob Cranston – revisit their favorite areas of the world’s oceans. The music is classical light. The cinematography is good, though nowhere approaching the BluRay pageantry of OCEANS. Hammerheads, kelp forests, and moon-spawning are studied in detail. And there’s a big finale – schools of fish in motion – which conjures images of New Year’s Eve fireworks displays. Both this film and OCEANS, co-incidentally, visit the marine lizards of the Galapagos Islands, displaying markedly different visual approaches to the subject.

JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU: OCEAN ADVENTURES collection is another PBS release. 3 discs, totaling approximately eleven hours, broken down into several different feature length docs, follow Jacques Cousteau’s son around the world. I chose to watch RETURN TO THE AMAZON. Formerly visited in 1982, Cousteau now finds a rain forest hotel on stilts dedicated to him. And he finds the rain forest in a state of serious depletion. He and his crew travel down river, checking out some of the animal life in the most powerful of the world’s rivers, which supports the greatest marine bio-diversity on the planet. It’s a serious, educational film, urging the world to help indigenous peoples, and more than half of its running time is devoted to the miseries visited upon the environment and how we citizens, and more importantly, our governments, can do something about it. The underwater photography has a golden caste, and as the water tends to be quite muddy, this could be the explanation rather than colored filtration. The score is more John Williams adventure-epic in style. In a nice voice-over choice, actor Delroy Lindo is the film’s narrator.

Both are good films, but Disney’s BluRay release of OCEANS is in a world occupied by itself alone.

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