“Oceans” is the second of an annual Earth Day movie release by Disney Studio’s new Disneynature label. The series is designed to draw attention to the planet, thereby drawing in crowds during the sluggish post-spring break, pre-summer vacation season. Judging from the audience at the viewing I attended, the strategy is working: hoards of young Planeteers were there for a neighborhood Earth Day celebration, or so it was explained to me by one of the mothers after the movie ended.
I was there with my 4-year-old grandson, Miles, who couldn’t care less about Earth Day or saving the planet, although he is very good at putting away his toys and throwing his popsicle sticks into the trash. We went to the movie simply because he loves fishies.
“Oceans” was made by the same team of documentarians that made the remarkable “Winged Migration” (2003), which partnered stunning cinematography with lush French impressionist music to create a gorgeous work of art. Unfortunately, “Oceans” falls short of the expectations created by the earlier film. While the camera work is impressive and occasionally even breathtaking, especially clips of the massive rolling sea, the film lacks the charm and emotional connection of “Winged Migration” or even last year’s “Earth.” The music, by Bruno Coulais, is pleasant but not moving. The film as a whole feels less like a celebration of sea life than like a preachy documentary — especially with Pierce Brosnan’s stern, dispassionate narration.
Before the film ended, the neighborhood Earth Day celebrants were crawl- ing over the seats, running along the aisles, tossing popcorn at one another, and in every way expressing their lack of interest in the film as their mothers tried in vain to corral them. They couldn’t wait to get out to the video arcade in the theater lobby. (Meanwhile — not to brag — my little Miles, a true lover of fish, was delightedly calling out the names of every creature that appeared on the screen.)
I shouldn’t be so flippant. There is much to like about this movie, which was filmed over the course of four years in over 50 underwater locations. It captures some astounding footage of unusual sea creatures, and demonstrates the often symbiotic relationship of predators and cleaners, fish and plant life. Thoughtfully, the editors cut away just before the blood begins spurting as sharks and whales snatch sea lions into their massive jaws. We do, however, see crabs munching on the drumsticks of other crabs and flocks of predatory birds diving in to snatch up baby turtles as they make a frantic dash for the sea. “Only one in a thousand turtles will survive their first day, but that is enough to assure the survival of the species,” Brosnan intones.
I guess what really bothered me about the film was the obligatory ending, with Brosnan telling us that humans are destroying the seas and the planet itself. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do think we should take care of what we have. That’s one of the reasons I’m such a proponent of private property: we take care of the things we own, though we tend to ignore or abuse the things that belong to others. But activists today seem to want humans to leave the planet to the animals entirely, forgetting that humans are animals too. If it’s okay for birds to eat 999 out of a thousand baby turtles, why isn’t it equally okay for humans to eat fish? Especially if those fish are farmed, harvested, replaced, and sustained by the humans?
Yes, we humans use tools and technology, and that makes us able to do greater damage. The film shows trash carried to the ocean and refuse dumped into rivers, and this is indeed troubling. But we aren’t the only animals that leave their refuse behind. When I walk to work every morning, I have to dodge big blobs of excrement left by the flocks of Canada geese that have permanently immigrated to our community — without papers, visas, or green cards, I might add.
“Oceans” shows a crablike creature (Miles would know its official name) cleaning out its cave by expelling sand and excrement and just leaving it there by the front door. By contrast, people employ water treatment plans to clean and reuse the water we expel from our homes and businesses. And my human neighbors carry plastic bags to clean up after their pampered pooches, who would otherwise blithely leave their refuse behind to decompose in the sun.
In fact, businesses everywhere in the developed world are doing their best to control pollution while still producing the goods that contribute to our wellbeing. The oil slick now heading for shore in the Gulf of Mexico is a tragedy, but scientists are working around the clock to figure out how to stop the gusher and clean up the mess. Moreover, BP would have begun burning the oil immediately, before it had time to spread, if environmentalists hadn’t urged the government to prevent the controlled burnoff because of the smoke pollution it would have caused. I have confidence that by the time this magazine reaches its readers, the problem will be under control and safeguards will be in place at all remaining wells to prevent a similar occurrence.
“Oceans” reminds us to be mindful of our neighbors under the water as well as those on land. But it is a delicate balancing act that humans create — maximizing our quality of life while avoiding accidents and disasters. It’s a balancing act every bit as complex as those taking place in the world beneath the sea.