'Oceans'

Boasts extraordinary images rendered with a clarity sure to become a touchstone for nature docus.

What “Winged Migration” did for creatures of the air, co-helmers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud do again for those of the deep in “Oceans,” which boasts extraordinary images rendered with a clarity sure to become a touchstone for nature docus; even viewers who don’t care about fish will find plenty to exclaim about. Though there’s a formlessness to it all, the wow factor will thrill the “Earth” crowd, making “Oceans” a surefire bet for families and nature lovers when it hits Stateside screens April 22 in honor of Earth Day. Pic goes out in Gaul Jan. 27.

Cameras were placed in specially designed units that could literally swim as fast as sea lions, or capture action simultaneously above water and under. Shooting lasted four years, in 54 locations; more than 200 species were filmed, though only 80 appear in the feature. Mackerel fans will have to wait for the inevitable miniseries, which can pick and choose from some of the 500 hours left over. There’s also a storm sequence shot with a device that allows the horizon to remain perfectly straight while being tossed about in waves that would make Wolfgang Petersen seasick.

Notwithstanding the remarkable technology involved, the helmers make the animal kingdom the star. Extraordinary images, at the start, of iguanas, horseshoe crabs and turtles provide only a taste of what’s to come, as the cameras glide in balletic fashion with creatures as fantastic as anything created by CG.

There’s a breathtaking sequence in which schools of fish below the surface are bisected by dolphins, and Cape Gannets plunge in and out of the water like harpoons, accompanied by music that makes it all resemble a battle from “Star Wars.” And then the whales arrive. For those who favor the cute and cuddly, there are penguins and even mammals in the form of polar bears and a variety of seals.

Unlike in “Deep Blue,” scenes of violence are largely kept to a minimum, so the occasional shots of, say, a shark devouring a seal are so quick and bloodless that they’re unlikely to upset the junior set. Likewise, mating dolphins look merely playful to young eyes, and since the infrequent voiceover (by Perrin himself) keeps silent, parents can avoid sticky questions.

Only toward the end does “Oceans” become disturbing, when descriptions of man’s rape of the seas are accompanied by images of dying sharks whose fins and tails have been sliced off to satisfy premium-paying palates.

However, some technical manipulation seems to have been done: A shot of a rocket launch reflected in an iguana’s eye is too perfect. And can undersea microphones really pick up the sound of fish lips smacking, or a crab’s leg being snapped in two by a carnivorous lobster?

Though there’s the occasional pompous line (“What is the ocean?”), Perrin’s sparse narration is refreshingly unobtrusive, allowing the drama of, for instance, sea birds picking off baby turtles in their rush to the sea to emerge entirely from the images.

Oceans

France-Spain-Switzerland

Production

A Pathe Distribution (in France)/Disneynature (in U.S.) release of a Galatee Films, Pathe, France 2 Cinema, France 3 Cinema (France)/Notro Films (Spain)/JMH-TSR (Switzerland) production, with participation of France Televisions, Canal Plus, TPS Star, CNC, Procirep, Angoa-Agicoa. Produced by Jacques Perrin, Nicolas Mauvernay, Romain Le Grand. Executive producer, Jake Eberts. Directed by Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud. Screenplay, Perrin, Cluzaud, Francois Sarano, Stephane Durand, Laurent Debas, Laurent Gaude.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), Luc Drion, Luciano Tovoli, Philippe Ros, Laurent Charbonnier, Christophe Pottier, Eric Borjesson, Laurent Fleutot, Thierry Thomas, Philippe Garguil, Olivier Gueneau; editors, Vincent Schmitt, Catherine Mauchain; music, Bruno Coulais; production designer, Jean Rabasse; sound (Dolby Digital), Jerome Wiciak, Philippe Barbeau, Martine Todisco, Dominique Fano Renaudin, Elisabeth Paquotte; associate producers, Manuel Monzon, Jean-Marc Henchoz. Reviewed at Middle East Film Festival (Galas), Abu Dhabi, Oct. 13, 2009. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival -- Special Screenings.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Jacques Perrin, Lancelot Perrin. Narrator: Jacques Perrin.
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