In Morning Light, studio figurehead and ocean-racing enthusiast Roy Disney seeks to capture the experience of racing the Transpac, a much-revered, rightfully daunting 2500-mile sailing competition running from California to Hawaii. The filmmakers wanted young men and women as their subjects, all sailing novices, to portray how the challenges of a race can galvanize teamwork, challenge untried souls, and even serve as a metaphor for life itself. It’s all very well-intentioned, and the bright-eyed, fresh-faced kids Disney and co-producer Leslie Demeuse bring together—all ranging in age from their late teens to early 20s—carry an appeal and spontaneity that may have worked as the raw material for the film’s internal drama. But at 100 minutes, the documentary bites off more than it can chew. Writer-director Mark Monroe aims to weave together the profiles of 15 personalities and their team dynamics, while depicting the rigors of training for the big race. No one in the team leaves a lasting impression, and that’s less their fault than a consequence of overstuffed filmmaking. Cheesily contextualized pop tunes fill out the soundtrack while the film’s subjects make observations about racing, sailing, ambition, deprivation, and so on, that are no more revealing than tidbits you’d find in any connect-the-dots reality-TV show. The structure of the documentary follows the process of training, team selection (when the 15 members are whittled to 11), the buildup to the race, and the beat-by-beat of the race itself. But for those of us attuned to the punched-up presentation of The Amazing Race and Survivor, built week by week to maximize human drama and suspense, Morning Light is just reality lite. The visuals are often gorgeous (though, I suspect some benefit from digital sweetening), and no one in the documentary, thankfully, is grating or obnoxious. But the movie only takes glancing shots at its objectives, never satisfying on an interpersonal level or as a primer on open-sea racing (what the masterful Riding Giants accomplished for surfing). What Disney and colleagues should’ve done was pitch their project on an epic scale on a season’s worth of television. That would’ve done justice to their spunky, enthusiastic subjects, as well as to the glories of an inherently exciting and exhilarating sport.
- Walt Disney Pictures
- 98 min
- Mark Monroe
- Mark Monroe
- Chris Branning, Graham Brant-Zawadzki, Chris Clark, Charlie Enright, Jesse Fielding, Robbie Kane, Steve Manson, Chris Schubert, Kate Thiesen, Mark Towill, Genny Tulloch, Pieter van Os, Chris Welch, Kit Will, Jeremy Wilmot
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