Anthropomorphizing its shelled protagonist in a manner so melodramatic as to make one cringe, Turtle: The Incredible Journey documents a hatchling’s trip from birth on a Florida beach to the Atlantic Gulf Stream and points beyond, a story whose narration (by Miranda Richardson) and music seem to be in constant battle for over-the-top supremacy. Buoyed by sterling underwater footage of baby turtles navigating roiling waves, hitching rides on seaweed “rafts,” and searching for food, not to mention other gorgeous sights of incandescent deep-sea creatures and coral spores illuminating the ocean’s darkness, director Nick Stringer is incapable of letting a single moment exist unembellished by poetic narration.
Richardson’s voiceover assumes all sorts of emotions and motivations for its titular loggerhead, and describes its progression through the Atlantic with overblown pronouncements like “Now she belongs to the arm of the great current.” Given its incessantness, such dialogue proves nearly intolerable, especially when accompanied by an orchestral score of such swelling, blaring intrusiveness that it implies not only emotional manipulation, but manipulation of the footage’s entire assembly, which purports to document the same single creature’s 10,000 kilometer, years-spanning expedition. Further compounding matters is a lack of actual drama, thanks to both a shortage of exciting developments (after the hatchling’s initial race to the water avoiding deadly crabs, there’s almost no suspense) and romanticism that makes plain the turtle’s eventual survival.
Turtle repeatedly harps on the “ancestral” voice guiding its subject along its ages-old course, but rather than atmospherically suggest that genetic heritage, Stringer opts for blunt expository celebration. Melanie Finn’s script and Richardson’s readings crowd out all subtlety, moderation, and sense of proportion, so that even the narrative’s natural bookending parallels come across as schematic attempts to elicit awe-struck wonder. With only a few platitudes to impart about the turtle’s “incredible journey” (that nature can be cruel; that life is an amazing, indefatigable process), Stringer finds himself struggling to fill 80 minutes by resorting to a torturously slow intro montage of birds on the beach, as well as tacked-on, glibly pandering later messages about the environment and mankind’s role in destroying it (“We have asked too much of the sea,” intones Richardson, without meaningful elaboration). Though it boasts its fair share of shots that approximate the turtle’s first-person point of view, the film’s most dominant presence is its heavy-handed maker.