Turtle: The Incredible Journey: Film Review

A smartly shot sea documentary delivers its ecological message but does suffer from an overly dramatic narration.

Nick Stringer's wildlife doc stars a female loggerhead turtle, which has a one-in-10,000 chance to survive its ocean journey

Turtle: The Incredible Journey, made by veteran wildlife documenarians under the direction of Nick Stringer, follows the life and underwater travels of a single creature of the sea, a female loggerhead turtle, which has a one-in-10,000 chance to survive its journey. This journey, as is the case of so many wildlife docs these days, offers the opportunity for the filmmakers to make a plea on behalf of endangered species and to explore ecological issues, in this case what’s happening in the earth’s oceans under threat from over-fishing and global warming.

It looks like this film has taken its own arduous journey on the film festival/market circuit, where the odds may be only slightly better than that of the loggerhead. The film took two years to make and the print screened for review bore a 2008 copyright date. The film is now getting a modest release June 24 in Los Angeles, New York and near three primary SeaWorld locations via SeaWorld Pictures and Hannover House.

Since a Russian distributor spent the money to convert the film to 3D, the U.S. release in some locations will be in 3D. This review is based on a conventional print.

A loggerhead turtle is born literally buried alive in sand. Digging itself to the surface of a beach in Florida, the tiny creature must scramble for the water a few meters away across a war zone where prey such as ghost crabs and pelicans close in to devour these newborn.

If the turtle makes it to the water, strong currents carry the baby for up to three days before she reaches the Gulf Stream. (The filmmakers have a heroine since this will better illustrate the circle of life for these turtles.)

At this point, survival rate is about 50 percent. Things get worse.

She drifts at no more than five-miles-per-hour in sargassum weed, a plant that floats in the ocean, on her journey north. This film imagines she drifts seriously off-course, out of the Gulf Stream and into the doldrums of the Sargasso Sea. Here she is caught for five years.

Eventually, the movie’s heroine relocates the Gulf Stream, swims the north Atlantic for years from the freezing north to the Azores, then heads back to the Caribbean, 9,000 miles guided only by instincts inherited from ancestors going back millions of years. Hazards include blue sharks and jellyfish but also man, whose fishing nets and long lines catch and kill countless loggerheads.

The crew headed by cinematographer Rory McGuiness captures the hatchlings emerging on that Florida beach along with rare footage of juvenile turtles in the Azores and a brilliant shot of two turtles in a mating embrace. Adult turtles were filmed in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean but many scenes were filmed with rescued turtles in a specially built marine studio. Shots of the tiny turtle hitching a ride in the sargassum weed were recreated there as well.

So the film features amazing cinematography both underwater and on the ocean surface. But it does suffer from a treacly narration and overly dramatic music that pitch the movie more to young school children than interested adults. At least the filmmakers forgo giving their heroine a name, which another recent wildlife doc did with its wildlife “characters.”

The loggerhead turtle’s journey is indeed incredible. But you would rather the narration, delivered intelligently by Miranda Richardson, didn’t feel a need to remind you of this fact so frequently.

Opens: Friday, June 24 (SeaWorld Pictures/Hannover House)
Production companies: SeaWorld Pictures in association with Hannover House, Sola Media, NTM Movies,FILMSat59 and Save Our Seas Foundation
Director: Nick Stringer
Screenwriter: Melanie Finn
Narrated by: Miranda Richardson
Producers: Sam Taylor, Mike Downey, Sarah Cunliffe
Executive producers: Chris Clark, Zoranga Piggot, Mike Tims
Director of photography: Rory McGuiness
Scientific consultant: Jeanette Wyneken
Music: Henning Lohner
Editor: Sean Barton, Richard Wilkinson
No rating, 76 minutes