“Océans” Makes Small Waves

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

In a great, Pulitzer-worthy shot beneath the sea, co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud frame a dolphin perplexedly examining a ditched shopping cart, much the way we might ponder the appearance of some flotsam the Martians dropped on our front lawn. While worth a thousand words, it is, alas, one of “Océans’s” too few, incensed harangues.

This exquisitely photographed call for better husbandry of our seas isn’t Michael Moore or Bill Maher’s documentary. There are no outraged proofs or indisputably horrifying statistics spelling doom by our own hand. Oh, it’s in there all right. But narrator Pierce Brosnan politely delivers the tutorial in bemoaning, would yuh-could yuh? tones.

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It’s a tad offsetting to us altruists, the choir to which the soft-pedaled diatribe preaches. Gosh, we’re already on board. We decide issues like health care, energy or foreign affairs by how they’ll benefit the commonweal, and not just our pockets. Thus the approach is flummoxing. We fear it might not be strong enough to proselytize the unenlightened.

Bear in mind, aside from a preoccupation with finding the right proportion of melted cheese to their liberty fries, there are many citizens who view any reformist muckrake as an attempt to Bolshevize America. Global warming, humbug! They’d like to see the dolphins and whales’ birth certificates before deciding whether they’re endangered.

Now, this could be some new, passive propaganda ploy by the filmmakers: the quiet majesty of the deep and Mr. Brosnan’s mellifluous prose graciously acknowledging the naysayers’ ability to see the truth if properly presented. But the realist knows otherwise. While the pen is mightier than the sword, today’s enmities might call for a magic wand.

Still, there’s no discounting a very haunting fact Brosnan melancholily echoes in his commentary. “Just one lifetime,” he muses, is how long it took to put the Earth and sea in their troubled states. Heretofore escaping the wrath of oil spills, plastic containers and toxic chemicals for billions of years, such havoc has befallen them in only one lifetime.

However, rather than dwelling on that rather remarkable sin, the low key patter parades before us the stunning beauty of our ocean depths. Visiting with all manner of species and giving us a thumbnail sketch of their habits and habitats, the effect should be humbling to all but the most unbridled egotists. They are, after all, on this planet with us.

While some will say, “Yes, they’re here to serve us, even the strange little dudes we were unaware of,” I prefer taking a “Sesame Street” stance. Let’s be nice to ‘em. That is, except for the ones we eat and the ones that want to eat us. Let’s preserve them and their home, at least until we are more highly evolved and better able to judge if we were right.

In the meantime, there is no shortage of wonders in “Océans” to boggle the imagination. The sheer vastness and unexplored possibilities of this predominantly uncharted world right here on our own orb is just too much to absorb and apparently just as difficult to dissertate. So the team of seven writers contents itself with a random survey.

Although informative and often fascinating, it is increasingly apparent as we dreamily glide through the picturesque, underwater canyons and valleys that the film needs a focus beyond its emotional appeal to our better senses. Smatterings of ocean sociology segued with botany, ichthyology and quirky anecdotes are rarely edited to their best advantage.

It appears that the albeit fine footage has been matched with whatever generic statement of agenda that works. Rather than building up to one grand thesis, the film relies on the total effect of its individual investigations. It also counts on the notion that we concerned sorts already know the deal and just want to cheer as the conservation gospel is iterated.

Truth is, les directors Jacques took on quite a challenge. “Océans” certainly whets our appetite for more information about what lurks beneath the white caps. Yet in light of the subject’s unfathomable enormity, finding a happy medium between this well-intentioned but cursory audit and having us matriculate to a B.S. in oceanography is itself a Catch 22.

Hence, the decision for adults with no urchins to civilize is whether to pay to see it in all its expanse or wait until it plays the small screen. Granted, “Océans” may not rock the boat with the right, dramatic artistry. But it’s enough of a splash in the face to warrant intervention before our screensaver becomes but a reminder of how the sea once looked.

“Océans,” rated G, is a Disneynature release directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud and features Pierce Brosnan as narrator. Running time: 86 minutes


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