This hypnotically photogenic journey into the depths of the ocean blue exists to appeal to the imaginations of young and old alike—and to erase the memory of the last Disney-sanctioned documentary of its kind: Deep Blue. Also narrated, though less breathlessly, by Pierce Brosnan, Oceans begins with a group of children scurrying across a sand dune, a boy stopping to behold the splendor of the imposing sea, and Brosnan asking what only seems like a simple question: “What exactly is the ocean?” The image of a rocket soaring into outer space, a symbol of our ever-questing desire to find oceans elsewhere even though we’ve barely discovered the one we have here, is then reflected in the eyes of a marine iguana.
Such is the strange poetry of this documentary by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, who believe our ocean is home to a galaxy of its own, where larva suggests asteroids and crustacean eggs are like planets. So the documentary takes us where we can’t go, recording dolphin and whales leaping, sharks preying, and a slug known as a Spanish dancer and a blanket octopus living up to their colorful namesakes. This may sound like overly documented stuff, but the filmmakers are shrewd craftsmen: Beyond capturing the hypnotic rage of the sea in ways unseen since David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, they exhibit a tantalizingly canny gift for montage, evoking an Escher painting through the beautiful juxtaposition of birds diving into the sea like torpedoes with fish circling each other in perfectly prismatic, stormy fashion.
There is much cuteness, but also much danger, as in baby turtles hatching from their eggs in daylight and being eaten by birds as they scurry toward the sea. There is beauty and horror in this spectacle: Because sometimes only one in a thousand baby turtles will survive this type of slaughter, we are reminded of how fragile marine life already is without humans in the picture. Though the filmmakers come around to recording us, you will know us only by our thrashing limbs, the nets we cast, the blood we draw, the garbage, including a shopping cart, we dump into the sea. All this before the camera returns to the face of the boy peering at the ocean, appearing as if he finally knows it, and like us, by way of the film’s sincerely inquisitive, sometimes breathtaking abstract poeticism, respects it enough to even care for it.