Oceans -- Film Review

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ABU DHABI -- What "Winged Migration" did for birds, "Oceans" does for all sorts of strange sea creatures in an ambitious, impressively filmed documentary that follows on the heels of two classy Disneynature releases, "Earth" and "The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos." This second effort by "Winged Migration" co-directors Jacques Cluzaud and French star Jacques Perrin, who appears briefly onscreen, blends a sense of awe at nature's watery wonders with a plea for greater respect for the global environment.

After gala fest premieres at Abu Dhabi and Tokyo, it will roll out in Japan and parts of Europe before an April release stateside, where it should have no trouble surfing the wave of interest around top-quality nature docs.

A France-Spain co-production with Walt Disney Studios, "Oceans" is the result of four years of 75 diving expeditions in 50 locations all over the world, where camera teams captured about 80 species of outlandish fish, dolphins, whales, squid, lizards, crabs, turtles and creatures that simply defy classification.

Unlike "Earth," which tied together its amazing footage with extensive voice-over and anthropomorphic animals, "Oceans" opts for straight-faced nature. As a result it's more a poetic mood piece than a narrated story and probably a little more difficult for young children to stay focused on.

Comparisons will be made to the recent Disney pickup "OceanWorld 3D," another French-led project directed by Jean-Jacques Mantello. What "Oceans" lacks in special effects, it more than makes up for in weird originality, like the unforgettable shot of a prehistoric lizard on a wave-swept rock, who appears to be watching a space launch going on in the background.

This classic approach, accompanied by Bruno Coulais' delicate score, still manages to dazzle thanks to the high quality of the footage: Vast schools of exotic fish moving in synchronized patterns that could have been choreographed by Busby Berkeley, dramatic scenes of death on the high seas and creatures so amazing they seem to have swum out of a sci-fi novel.

Periodically, a gentlemanly Perrin wanders onscreen with a wide-eyed child who greatly resembles him and who he teaches to respect and understand nature. Politely but firmly, he insists we consider the bleak future that awaits the world's oceans if humans continue to dump rubbish and pollutants into the water and kill endangered species for commercial profit.

The simulated mutilation of sharks caught in a net and tossed back into the water to die after their fins are cut off is the film's one stomach-churner.

Its natural wonders aside, "Oceans" is one of those docs that make one question how the unseen cameramen could possibly obtain the shots they do, traveling at high speed beside schools of fish, sharks and whales. When the DVD gets released, the extras should be revealing.

Venue: Middle East International Film Festival (Disneynature)
Production: Galatee Films, Notro Film, Walt Disney Studios
Directors: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud
Screenwriters: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Francois Sarano, Stephane Durand, Laurent Debas, Laurent Gaude, Christophe Cheysson
Producers: Jacques Perrin, Nicolas Mauvernay
Music: Bruno Coulais
Editors: Catherine Mauchain, Vincent Schmitt
No rating, 103 minutes
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