Deep Blue

What "Microcosmos" did for creepy crawlies, "Deep Blue" now does for ocean dwellers. An offshoot of David Attenborough's much-admired BBC docu series "The Blue Planet," this majestic film has all the hallmarks of Beeb quality workmanship -- sumptuous visuals, a lush score, and some of the oddest creatures ever seen.

What “Microcosmos” did for creepy crawlies and “Winged Migration” did for our feathered friends, “Deep Blue” now does for ocean dwellers. An offshoot of David Attenborough’s much-admired BBC docu series “The Blue Planet,” this majestic film has all the hallmarks of Beeb quality workmanship — jaw-dropping, sumptuous visuals, a lush George Fenton score, state-of-the-art technology and some of the oddest creatures ever seen without recourse to artificial stimulants. Pre-sales for this family-friendly film have been strong, and niche pickups should be equally so.

Shot on a $5 million budget over three years at a range of locations — including the Maldives, Azores, Cayman Islands and Bermuda — pic is structured in 22 sections, each focusing on an aspect of ocean life, and each with its own mood. Like “Winged Migration,” the film is more interested in generating emotion than supplying fact. (Unfortunately, it’s not shot in widescreen, presumably because of its tube origins.)

Mood is often violent — a killer whale moving onto a beach to steal sea-lion pups, or dolphins, tuna and shearwaters in a feeding frenzy that shows them to be participants in a dangerous dance. But it is sometimes humorous, with thousands of crabs emerging from their holes in the sand to a salsa beat.

One particularly tense sequence has a 30-ton gray whale mother and her calf interrupted in their 6,000 mile journey by a pod of killer whales intent on separating the calf and drowning it. After a lengthy struggle, the whales succeed, and the mother, movingly, continues her journey alone. Also, coral reefs, often shown in docus as tranquil places, are revealed to be sometimes treacherous, as a whale shark glides onto the screen.

Footage from the surface — polar bears, emperor penguins — is impressively lensed and framed. One image, of hundreds of sleek, fat penguins huddled together against an Antarctic storm as part of their three-month journey across an icy wasteland, is unforgettable. But it is the underwater work, shot at depths of up to 16,500 feet, that stands out. The images have a precision and clarity more synonymous with CGI nowadays, the screen filling with unexplained but always spectacular forms, colors and textures. Pic claims to have discovered new species–not so surprising given that more is known about the surfact of the moon than the ocean floor.

The anthropomorphic commentary, delivered by Michael Gambon, is stately but almost too spare in details: Mood takes precedence over even basic info like the names of some creatures. Fenton’s score suggests the degree of order at work in nature and is perfectly synchronized to the images but sometimes bland.

The greatest danger to all this teeming life — man — is left until the end, with the commentary explaining that humans have hunted the planet’s largest creature, the blue whale, to 1% of its former levels.

Deep Blue

U.K.-Germany

Production: A BBC Worldwide (U.K.)/Greenlight Media (Germany) production. (International sales: Greenlight, Berlin.) Produced by Alix Tidmarsh, Sophokles Tasioulis. Executive producers, Andre Sikojev, Nikolaus Weil, Stefan Beiten, Mike Phillips. Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Andy Byatt. Screenplay, Fothergill, Byatt, Tim Ecott.

Crew: Camera (color), Doug Allan, Peter Scoones, Rick Rosenthal; editor, Martin Elsbury; music, George Fenton; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrew Wilson, Kate Hopkins, Lucy Rutherford. Reviewed at Image Film screening rooms, Madrid, Sept. 16, 2003. (In San Sebastian Film Festival -- Velodrome.) Running time: 90 MIN. Narrator: Michael Gambon.

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