Morning Light

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Opens: Friday, Oct. 17 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In the era of reality television and feature docs that scrutinize the very soul and substance of the American nation, a documentary like "Morning Light" feels almost quaint.

It's a movie about a group of young people selected and trained to compete in a biennial sailboat race from Southern California to Hawaii against seasoned pros. No one talks nasty behind anyone's backs, everyone must compete as a team, and the moral is you learn about life through sports and teamwork.

This is a film from Disney, in fact from Roy E. Disney, the studio's longtime shareholder and consultant, who as an avid sailor conceived of the idea, sponsored and even helped train this crew to sail a high-performance 52-foot sloop. The movie certainly is not without interest; indeed with a photographer aboard along with remote-controlled stationary cameras built into the boat, hand-held and night-vision cameras and a chase boat following the Morning Light team, director Mark Monroe achieves remarkable shots in the open sea. But the film lacks a compelling reason for anyone other than a sailing enthusiast to watch.

You have no idea why these particular 15 sailors were recruited. Whatever the process, it's amazing that it produced so many look-alike white, chiseled men under age 23, so much so it's hard to tell them apart. To be fair, two women made the initial group, though only one was among the 11 selected to sail. A black recruit also failed to make the voyage.

The six-month training emphasizes sweat and fatigue but does little to define character or untangle who's who among the look-alikes. When the final group is selected, one man begins to stand out, though: Jeremy Wilmot of Sydney, who as a natural leader and experienced sailor gets chosen captain.

The trek itself in 2,500 miles of open water has its lows and highs, from the boat hitting a high-pressure zone that leaves them motionless for hours to the unbelievable chance meeting in the middle of the sea with a competing boat in the same class. What are the odds?

The music, credited to Matter, oversells the excitement, however. One longs for a quiet moment where the boat can simply swish across the water.

The photography is amazing. Certainly many formidable challenges were resolved smashingly to create so many terrific shots of the crew at work, playing with and then fighting the ocean. While none of them emerges with a distinct personality, the teamwork is admirable.

Production: Walt Disney Pictures presents a Roy E. Disney production
Director-screenwriter: Mark Monroe.
Producer: Morgan Sackett.
Executive producers: Leslie DeMeuse, Roy E. Disney.
Directors of photography: Josef Nalevansky, Richard Deppe.
Music: Matter.
Editor: Paul Crowder.
Rated PG, 99 minutes.


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