Just in time for Earth Day, the folks at Disney and French directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud have plunged us happily into the undersea world of post-Jacques Cousteau oceans. And the view is to die for. Thanks to the advances in underwater photography technology and intrepid camera work all over the world, Océans offers one of the most visually dreamy and stunning depictions of ocean depths ever to hit the big screen.

Viewers of certain ages have varying emotional connections to nature documentaries, through the assorted visions of Jacque Cousteau, Disney nature films, the Discovery Channel, and beyond. It could be said that good, engaging contemporary nature documentaries are more important than ever, and an agent for potential change in the environmental awareness of young people, future stewards of an endangered planet. Even so, Océans doesn’t really follow the path of a strong eco-polemic like An Inconvenient Truth, despite the cautionary tale and sobering eco-realities toward the end of the new film. It makes its stronger point about the preciousness of the oceanic domain through the power of imagery.

There are minor irritations along the way. Hearing Pierce Brosnan’s voice narrating the film makes for something of a cognitive disconnect (although the text itself is refreshingly spare, with just enough data and drama). Try as he might, Brosnan can’t shake his Bond branding, or his suavity factor. As for Bruno Coulais’s soupy musical score, it falls prey to the common pratfall of nature documentaries: succumbing to melodramatic goopiness. To my mind, a more apt soundtrack to the rough, unsentimental beauty of nature would be more abstract, contemporary music—take the score for Shutter Island, as an example. But of course, as with religion, we all have our peculiar, subjective relationship to what nature means, and how best to revere it.

But never mind the quibbles: Océans may be this season’s greatest example of the power of cinematography, which makes cinematographers Luc Drion, Philippe Ros, and Luciano Tovoli the real stars of this show. Apart from the almighty Mother Earth herself, of course.


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