(by Dustin Putman
The sophomore release of Walt Disney Pictures' educational documentary shingle Disneynature, "Oceans" is a regrettably scattered, slapdash affair that holds none of the narrative flow and only a fraction of the visual majesty found in their first effort, 2009's "Earth." It also, for that matter, is not able to nearly match the breathtaking, often riveting heights of directors Jacques Perrin's and Jacques Cluzaud's previous nature picture, 2003's "Winged Migration." In lieu of narrowing in on particular animals and depicting their, at once, individual and universal plights, "Oceans" holds no focus and skips from one organism to the next without giving the viewer more than a couple scant tidbits of information about each one. Their lives, then, are boiled down to cameos within an 84-minute montage of lesser value than BBC's "Planet Earth" or just about any like-minded doc on the Discovery Channel. Article continues below
"To really know the ocean, you have to live it," narrates Pierce Brosnan at the start of "Oceans." The kicker is that the audience is not invited to feel as if they are living it so much as put in the roles of restless gypsies, constantly moving around without getting a well-rounded perspective of any of the fascinating and beautiful creatures of the sea. Sure, there are some gorgeous images on display, from the aerial views of a restless, foreboding oceanscape, the waves whipping into rocky cliffs; to giant schools of fish swimming in circles to create the appearance of an underwater cyclone; to awe-inspiring armies of spider crabs in Australia's Melbourne Bay, marching together on the ocean floor as if going into battle, better than any special effect.
A sequence where sea turtles hatch on the beach and must make the perilous journey back to the waters as they are preyed upon by the birds overhead—we are told that only one in a thousand make it—is one of the film's few truly involving moments, the viewer given the chance to be right alongside the newborn turtles and sympathize with their dire straits. A similar scene in which sea lions are attacked by great white sharks after a day of sunbathing is effective, but too clearly holding back, lest the kiddies watching become traumatized. In fact, the enterprise as a whole seems to have too obviously been homogenized for younger viewers at the expense of a truer, tougher depiction of the natural order of things.
If "Earth" gave a full, satisfying scope of the planet and its many untouched and exotic regions, "Oceans" is low on information (a lot of times we do not even know where we are) and high on ulterior motives and strained scripting. Pierce Brosnan—a major step down from the regal James Earl Jones in "Earth"—delivers his narration in a sleepy tone that sets the stage for the lack of overall energy of the production. Shoehorned into the final twenty minutes is an awkward environmental message that lectures on pollution and global warming; it is not at all organic to what has come before and, while well-meaning, simply doesn't work in context. At the end, a final voiceover goes from silly to philosophically pretentious, suggesting that some of the deadly creatures of the ocean hide smiles on their faces and can bond with humans for leisurely side-by-side strolls of the waters' depths. Finally, Brosnan says, "Perhaps the question shouldn't be, 'What, exactly, is the ocean?', but 'Who, exactly, are we?'" I'm still trying to figure that one out.