Oceans (2010)

Director:  Jacques Perrin
Plot:  An ecological drama/documentary, filmed throughout the globe. Part thriller, part meditation on the vanishing wonders of the sub-aquatic world.

Genre:  Documentary / Drama

Awards:  -
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  PG for some disturbing scenes.


There is a sequence in Oceans that blows my mind.  A stone crab emerges from the seabed and crawls along.  Another follows.  And then a few more follow.  The camera then trails these creatures as they make their way to somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  The stone crabs are joined by more of their own. 

Suddenly, in an establishing shot that continues to baffle me, the camera reveals what seems like hundreds of thousands of stone crabs in “a great big orgy”.  The sandy seabed that stretches for miles and miles could not have been more alive.

That is only one of a number of spectacular scenes on show.  Another highly memorable sequence shows deft skill in quick cutting as hundreds of predatory birds dive headfirst into the water at startling speeds as the camera captures their assault on small fishes through above water and underwater shots.  The latter is quite incredible, and eerily reminiscent of bullets ripping through the water in the Normandy beach scene of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998).

Jacques Perrin, whose previous film credits famously include acting as the adult Toto in Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988), director of the excellent Oscar-nominated documentary Winged Migration (2001), and producer of (1969) and The Chorus (2004), now has Oceans in his resume, a documentary that explores in amazing detail what happens under the sea, bright day or still night, stormy or fine weather. 

The result is like nature washing over you as you drown in its unrivalled beauty.  There is no gasping for air but the taking in of the vitality of life.  Oceans surprisingly works well as “a thriller”.  In certain sequences, Perrin opts for suspense, such as the one involving baby turtles as they evade hungry birds, making their way into the sea from the shore in their own version of Normandy. 

Many of them are eaten while the lucky ones try to survive in the big blue ocean.  Even though collectively the turtles represent a faceless mass, we fear for each one of them because Perrin focuses on one or two of them at any one time, heightening the sense of vulnerability.

It is not surprising, however, to see Oceans preaching the ecological message. “Save the planet! Save the animals!” become the general plea for viewers to do their part in protecting their only home in this vast universe.  

But the plea is not as strong and specifically targeted as what is felt in The Cove (2009), the Oscar-winning documentary that secretly chronicles the slaying of hundreds of dolphins by Japanese fishermen in a hidden lagoon, and has now been controversially and unfairly labeled as “anti-Japanese”.

Oceans is lightly-narrated.  This is a good move as the stunning underwater cinematography is left to do all the talking, or in this context, to speak in silence to the viewer.  Perrin films in cinema verite style; his camera is unbiased, objective, and unobtrusive. 

His use of original music by Bruno Coulais (The Chorus) is also spot on.  Very often, the marrying of melody and motion (that of sea creatures) is a joy to experience, alternating between the subtle and the grandeur.

It’s weird to say this but Oceans may leave your forearms bruised.  Now, you may wonder why.  Well, every once in a while, you might just pinch yourself to see if those beautiful imageries are really real or created with a green screen.  Of course, no CG effect could ever replicate nature’s beauty.  Oceans shows why and that’s quite something to think about.


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