In Oceans, former actor and noted documentary director Jacques Perrin (Winged Migration) and co-helmer Jacques Cluzaud have created a new otherworldly cinematic experience that mostly transcends its nature as a cloying and lazy feature-length wildlife conservation PSA. The duo’s mesmeric footage of sea life in its natural habit totally overshadows its creators’ last-ditch efforts to tell the viewer, “You’ve seen how pretty the ocean is. Now do something about saving it.” Still, Perrin and Cluzaud have given themselves no small task in trying to simulate for their viewers the sensations of the ocean—the sights, sounds, and, uh, smells, as narrator Pierce Brosnan explicitly spells out in the film’s introduction. And miraculously, the duo come as close as they can, given the limitations of the medium (sadly, William Castle wasn’t around when the film was made last year to help them reach out and touch their audience).
Perrin and Cluzaud’s lithe camera dives into the midst of their aquatic subjects while at the same time never losing sight of the expansive, abundant, and seemingly infinite dimensions of their blue habitat. The meandering nature of Oceans‘s narrative-less 83-minute runtime combines with its lush, beautifully lit underwater photography to create a hallucinogenic, nigh avant-garde visual tour de force. The complexity of the film’s sound design is equally awe-inspiring, full of lush, reconstructed sounds that buttress and eventually eclipse Brosnan’s voiceover narration.
If there’s a singular weak link in Oceans, it’s Brosnan’s narration. Though the film is meant for children, hearing him sigh about “the exquisite blanket octopus” or seriously rhetorically pontificate, “Maybe instead of asking what is the ocean, we should be asking, ‘Who are we?’” I highly doubt any child wants to hear or wonder either of these things. Brosnan reminds us that the film has human creators and isn’t just a fantastic found object from Planet Puff Puff Pass (this movie would totally look great if watched while high). It’s one thing to understand that “every crackle and click [of a crab’s pincers] is registered and understood” and another to be told it by the guy that once macked on Mrs. Doubtfire’s wife. But really, once Perrin and Cluzaud’s wall of sound and images kicks in, you can easily tune out the film’s human element out and just lock into what may be the most purely cinematic movie to grace theaters this year.
Disney has really outdone themselves with the immaculate picture quality of this Oceans release. The print looks as good as when it was screened on Imax earlier this year, digitized and cleaned-up to perfection so that all the blues, whites, and more blues look as rich and inviting as they did on the really big screen. The DVD's audio quality is equally impressive, rich and full of the kind textured balance between different soundtracks that wins awards.
The extras included on Disney's DVD are pretty lame. There's an eight-minute commercial for the many advances Disney has made in nature conservation. Sadly, the original cut of the film—20 minutes longer and with French narration—isn't made available on either disc in the set. "Deeper in the Ocean" is a clip show of talking heads speaking around clips from the film about the importance of conservation and the richness of the ocean. The feature is folly for no other reason than the fact that Perrin and Cluzaud were right the first time: You have to experience the ocean to appreciate it, not hear some enthusiastic experts tell you about it.
The most entertaining feature is, of course, a campy and totally oblivious music video promoting conservation starring Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas. It's not a good song or a good music video by any means: Jonas and Lovato have undistinguished voices that only a tween could love and the music video is mostly shots of them performing in a studio and then running amuck on a beach, pumping their fists and marveling at the ocean. But that's got a certain sociological appeal: What are these overpaid kids doing and who wants to watch this after having seen Oceans? Children, you say? No, no, try again.
Oceans is bound to be a big hit among children, stoners, stoners' children, spinster stoners, and anyone that enjoy movies with immersive photography and intricate sound design.