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Oceans

dirs: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud
[img_assist|nid=1431|title=Oceans. Someone needs to tell them to stop being so smug|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=597]
Oceans. They’re everywhere! And, did you know that they’re full of water?

Very watery waters, apparently. And mostly the water is blue. Sometimes green, sometimes grey, sometimes a mixture of greeny-bluey-grey, but always very watery.

We owe a lot to the oceans. They feed us, naturally, and they’re also where we dump all our sewerage and garbage, as the gods intended, and they also willingly have become the final resting place for murderous / saintly Osamas who’ve outlived their usefulness, but they’re also really pretty. And they’re also chock full of thoroughly beautiful creatures like dugongs, walruses, stonefish and moray eels.

Who could not love the Oceans? They’re practically the puppies/kittens of the solar system. Only a completely dead-inside monster, that’s who. Or the captain of the Titanic, I guess. Or anyone who’s lost a loved one to the Ocean’s watery embrace, I guess as well.

This astounding documentary which has taken its time to get here, and is playing at Cinema Nova (in Melbourne as at 22/5/2011) acts as if people don’t know what oceans are (as opposed to seas, which everyone knows are the oceans’ poor orphan cousins), or that there are fish in them. There’s actually a line of narration that says the following:

“So instead of asking, ‘What, exactly, is the ocean?’, maybe we should be asking, ‘Who, exactly, are we?’”

Should we? Should we really? Because I was under the obviously mistaken impression that pretty much anyone with eyes knows what goddamn oceans are: They’re those huge blue things you see on globes and maps, or which people occasionally fly over in their planes or autogyros or zeppelins, depending on their finances.

Maybe there are people blind from birth who might have difficulty comprehending just what oceans are visually, but they can at least understand them conceptually. Even the dumbest person these documentary makers and narration writers have ever met in their whole stinking lives knows what a goddamn ocean is.

And who, exactly is asking the question as to “What, exactly, is the ocean?” Who are these questing, querulous seekers of truth? Who, not knowing that it’s a big fucking body of salty water, would admit it by asking someone in their general vicinity? Who are these lost souls, wandering forlorn in the night, grabbing at the coat lapels of strangers, begging to be put out of their misery by explaining to them what the hell oceans might be?

Narration, and this might stun many of you, creates and supplies a narrative. The narration here, and you can hear it in the narrator’s voice, embarrasses the narrator. I don’t know if there were many changes made between the French and English versions of this flick, but in the version I just saw on Saturday, Pierce Brosnan sounds like he’s squirming in purgatorial embarrassment as he reads some of these stinky lines of narration.

Another one I loved: he’s describing goddamn seals or sea otters or some other pestilential rats of the oceans, and he is forced, I like to think at gunpoint, to say something like the following:

“You can’t really get to know what it’s like to be a seal by just watching them; you have to jump in and play with them.”

This is your golden contribution to science and human understanding of the goddamn Oceans? Are you fucking kidding me?

This flick would and will benefit greatly on DVD, Blu-Ray or whatever dead format it debuts on when you’re given the option to just switch off the terrible, terrible narration. Even Morgan Freeman, with his wise, sonorous voice, couldn’t save this crap from sounding like a parody of well-meaning and utterly wet documentaries.

Of course, these flicks are, and should be, just about the visuals. The makers spent four years, four fruitless years getting footage from around the world with the intention of cobbling together a bunch of moments intended to pretend to be an all-encompassing summation of the life aquatic.

It’s a lofty ambition, one which they don’t even get close to approaching. Not that it matters. That’s not the criterion I use to judge whether this is a decent doco or not, or whether it’s worth watching.

My main criterion, and the only reason the flick is important to me, at least important enough to review, is that it’s the first flick I have ever taken my daughter to see at the cinema. And she sat there and watched about half an hour without making so much as a peep. And then she got bored, of course, and I had to keep her placated with Japanese rice crackers for the rest of the running time.

So, no, perhaps four-year-olds won’t enjoy it, especially if it’s their first experience of the big, shiny silver screen. And after she told me that it wasn't a good film to have watched, because it was serious and she didn’t want to be taught things by the silly, serious man who was always talking.

And I agree. I don’t want Pierce Brosnan fucking up my films with pointless and drearily delivered narration either. So she’s right about that.

But, still, some of the footage here is amazing. The real brief, or mission statement of the filmmakers, must have been to distance themselves from every other Jacques Cousteau whale-lover and Sir David Attenborough-tryhard who’s already recorded billions of hours of undersea footage to this very day. The only way they could set themselves apart is by tackling it differently (as they did with Winged Migration), by finding new ways to film stuff in order to get footage no-one else has ever got.

Well, since it took them four years, you have to figure that that’s a lot of effort for an hour and twenty minutes of killer footage. And I’d argue that out of that, there’s only a few isolated minutes (with no continuity with the footage preceding or following it), that is genuinely awe-inspiring. Much of it looks like, despite their heroic efforts, the same crap we’ve been seeing for decades.

But I do love this stuff. Sometimes it’s enough just to have heart-breakingly beautiful images of nature up on a big screen, projected clearly, with stirring and inspirational music in the background. Sure, that’s the same manner in which tampon commercials and soft drinks are marketed, but I do thrill at much of this kind of filmmaking. And the ocean, the aquatic realm, is just such a fundamentally visually arresting subject.

The flick makes the case for the overall awesomeness of the oceans despite the best efforts of the voiceover, because when we see enough phenomenal imagery of whales feeding in Alaskan waters (as long as there aren’t any Japanese, any Palins or Inuit around to kill them), leaping out of the water like alien beasts beyond our ken, it’s thrilling. When we see a diver swimming next to a great white shark which is four times his body length and mass, with the shark noticing but not seeming to mind much, it’s an effort of will not to say ‘wow’ out loud. When that most hideous of the ocean’s denizens, the walrus, is shown looking after its baby, and looks like nothing less than a loving creature cradling its baby, suspended in the water the way a loving human parent would, it inspires wonder as to the universality of life connecting us in far more ways than Pierce Brosnan’s plummy tones ever could.

The image of ships precariously staying upright in violent seas, being pummelled by 30-plus foot waves conveys all we need to know about how powerful it can get (thankfully they leave out tsunami-related footage, because that would just be bad taste).

The flick is replete with moments like that, mostly which are meant to work as an evocation of how you can contextualise everything in the universe in the reductive terms of human tropes. So a group of crabs facing off with another group naturally is ‘war’, and large fish being groomed by littlies is a trip to the beauty parlour, and so on.

Isn’t it tiresome that we strive to go to such lengths, to search the wonders of the world and the universe for nothing more than new mirrors to reflect back what we already know to ourselves?

Whatever. The film Oceans is beautiful to watch, terrible to listen to, and not terribly illuminating, but good goddamn does it look purty.

6 times no documentary ever needs to have penguins or dolphins in it ever again: it’s just lazy to keep trotting them out, you Gallic hacks out of 10

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“Human indifference, without a doubt, is the ocean's greatest threat.” – what about boredom, that’s a pretty grave threat, or what about Osama Fin Laden, the mutant by-product of Japanese radiation, shark DNA and fundamentalism, that’s an even bigger threat - Oceans

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