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Progress City Home Theater: Oceans (2010)

This year saw the second theatrical release from the relatively new Disneynature banner, Oceans. Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, the follow-up to 2009′s Earth is another picturesque triptych through the wilder realms of our planet. This time, though, the focus is on the underwater realm and its inhabitants.

The oceans are by far the planets largest ecosystem, featuring its greatest diversity and most intriguing mysteries, and trying to sum it all up in a single feature film is a daunting task. Oceans, therefore, lacks an in-depth focus on any specific region or creature, but it does boast some of the most incredible underwater footage I’ve seen.

Oceans was released on home video on October 19th, 2010, in both DVD and Blu-ray versions. Sadly, both are bereft of the type of in-depth extras that could really flesh out the world of the film.

The Film

 

Oceans is a gorgeous film. I mean, really, really gorgeous. Technical advances in filmmaking now allow for lush, high-definition underwater photography and, as the trailer above shows, it pays off in this film. The vivid hues of the undersea world pop from the screen in crystal clarity, and the images captured are often so bizarre and unreal that they seem out of some science-fiction epic.

While Oceans is forced by practicality to merely skim over subjects instead of providing the level of documentary detail one might desire, it does well in whetting the appetite for future study. The pace of the film is not rushed, and the sonorous and serious narration by actor Pierce Brosnan helps create a sense of majesty that seems right out of EPCOT’s original Living Seas pavilion. In fact, one of my first thoughts when watching Oceans was how sad it seems that Disney has completely missed the opportunity to capture the same impressive feeling of scope seen in this film in their Seas attraction at EPCOT. The oceans don’t need animated gimmicks to be impressive; its true-life tales, as seen in this promotional clip, are far more impressive and awe-inspiring than anything humans could think up.

Thankfully, the filmmakers tend to stay out of the way and let the animals take center stage. Long takes are often employed so that the viewer really gets a sense of place and of scale, and there’s not a lot of quick-cutting and forced attempts to tell a “story”. In this promotional clip, the filmmakers explain the thought behind this:

Again, though, the success of the filmmakers in capturing these scenes leads to a strange problem – the vignettes they present are so intriguing that the viewer wishes to linger; to stay and learn more about specific creatures. Unfortunately, by the time one becomes invested in one locale, the filmmakers are forced to move on to the next subject and all too often we witness bizarre or incredible creatures or behavior and never really get an explanation for what they are, or why they’re acting in a certain way. So many adaptive behaviors seem curious to the outside observer, as shown in the promo clip below, and sadly sometimes the film itself leaves audiences guessing as to what, exactly, they have seen.

There are many memorable moments. A breathtaking scene follows a pod of dolphins as they race each other through the sea; whales, sharks, and birds team up to corral a school of fish; otters and sea lions frolic; and coral reefs teem with bizarre and alien forms of life.

All in all, the film presents countless impressive images but, because of its vast scope, fails to really get to the meat of any particular topic. It’s a blessing and a curse: a spectacular overview of the world’s largest animal habitat, but a mere appetizer for the interested viewer. Hopefully, in years to come, Disneynature will provide a closer look and any number of these fascinating subjects.

The Discs

Oceans has been released in two packages: a Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD in a single package) and 1-Disc DVD.

Video & Audio

Like most new digital releases, the film looks wonderful. Filmed in 1.85:1 widescreen high definition, the spectacular images are the real selling point of the film on both DVD and Blu-ray.

The soundtrack, in Dolby Digital 5.1, is suitably atmospheric in presenting the sounds of wildlife and Brosnan’s narration, and audio tracks are presented in English, French, and Spanish.

Bonus Materials

It’s very unfortunate that there are so few extra features in this release, when this film specifically could benefit greatly from expanded content as well as a look at its creation. Throughout the film, I constantly wondered “How did they get this shot?” The technology used for this film must have been incredible, yet there’s no single look at the making of the film on the Blu-ray or DVD. The Blu-ray features something called “Filmmaker Annotations”, portions of which are excerpted on the DVD, but these are mere picture-in-picture soundbytes from the filmmakers that play during the film. It’s nice to have, say, a discussion of how a shot was filmed play while that scene is onscreen, but it provides a scattershot look at the making of the film and the small window in which the clips appear make it hard to distinguish who is speaking. In many ways, it’s no better than watching embedded clips on a website:

It seems criminal to release a Blu-ray with such sparse features.

DVD Features

  • “Make A Wave” Music Video – Just what every nature lover wants: a music video with Disney Channel tween stars. “Disney’s Friends For Change” present this music video featuring a Jonas and a Lovato.
  • Disney & Nature: Preserving the World We Share – A brief infomercial promoting the Disney corporation’s worldwide conservation efforts. To their credit, they’re doing a lot of work that I’d never even heard of.
  • Deeper in the Ocean – Five brief behind-the-scenes clips from the Blu-ray release.

Blu-ray Features

  • “Make A Wave” Music Video
  • Disney & Nature: Preserving the World We Share
  • Living Menus – An interactive globe in the main menu of the disc allows access to several brief behind-the-scenes clips from the film. It’s slickly designed, but makes getting at the clips rather tedious and the videos themselves are presented in unnecessarily small windows.
  • Filmmaker Annotations – A viewing mode that streams behind-the-scenes clips in-movie, allowing stories from the filmmakers and crew to be heard while the film is underway. A nice idea, but not as the only method of accessing these features

In Summary…

Oceans is yet another strong entry in the long, long line of nature documentaries from the Disney studio. The subject matter and filmmaking technologies are the perfect match for some truly spectacular visuals, and Oceans delivers those in spades. For those looking for a more in-depth type of documentary, this might not be for you. It’s also a shame that Disney did not take the opportunity to provide more extra features, as this is a film where the story of how it was made had to be nearly as interesting as what was onscreen. Still, it’s another worthy entry in the Disneynature line and hopefully a sign of spectacular things to come.

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