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As its poster promises, Blue features plenty of adorable gray dolphins swimming, diving, back-flipping, hunting and feasting on schools of fish with what look like permanent grins on their faces. But this latest Disneynature effort has more going for it than just the cute factor — most notably superb 4K cinematography that’s so vivid and crisp, you might as well be staring at a giant aquarium.
Directed by Keith Scholey (with Alastair Fothergill receiving a co-director credit), the documentary follows the titular animals as they do their thing around the world (the film was shot in a dozen locations ranging from Hawaii to Tahiti to the Red Sea), tracking one young dolphin as she grows up and learns to fend for herself. To add some more plot elements, there’s also a family of humpback whales being chased by a school of killer whales; a tiger shark menacingly patrolling the depths; a glow-in-the-dark cuttlefish that could have been designed by Guillermo del Toro; and something known as a “peacock mantis shrimp” that provides a fair amount of comic relief.
Disneynature, which was created in France back in 2008, has put out a slew of such impressively shot and warmly narrated docs in recent years, with 2009’s similar-themed Oceans raking in nearly $90 million worldwide. (This reviewer has a particular soft spot for Born in China, which came out two years ago.) They are hardly groundbreaking in terms of content, very Disney-like in the way they try to please the whole family and only partially address issues like pollution and global warming. But they’re always well-put together and extremely easy on the eyes.
Blue tends to follow that formula to a T, while its impressive level of craft and pedagogical inclinations make it a worthy enough addition to the underwater genre. Most memorable are the sequences where we follow sea life up close in ways rarely seen before, surveying the activity on a section of coral reef as if it were a bustling city street viewed from ground level. The abundance of color and different species is truly daunting, and the film allows us to grasp the intelligence of mollusks and other invertebrates struggling to survive in a crowded terrain. Another highlight is a late sequence where we see how dolphins craftily drive their prey into traps by swimming in adjoining circles, then feasting on them in a spectacular open buffet of flying fish.
Much kudos are due to the film’s eight credited cinematographers — including Paul Atkins (Terence Malick’s Voyage of Time) — who used an array of state-of-the-art equipment for a production that lasted more than two years and spanned several continents. A brief sequence tagged on to the closing credits reveals some of the behind-the-scenes action, with cameramen getting up close and personal with sharks or using underwater Technocranes to provide swooping vistas of the seascape. Such work pays off onscreen, and despite rather kitschy narration (by actress Cecile de France in the French version) and feel-good music (by Steven Price of Baby Driver), Blue has a stunning you-are-there quality to its imagery that can’t be ignored.
Production companies: Disneynature, Silverback Films
Directors: Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill
Producers: Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill, Roy Conli
Directors of photography: Doug Anderson, Roger Horrocks, Paul Atkins, Jamie McPherson, Denis Lagrange, Didier Noirot, Blair Monk, Mark Gerasimenko
Editor: Martin Elsbury
Composer: Steven Price
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