Deep Blue

December 9th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Director; Alastair Fothergill & Andy Byatt

Riding somewhat on the back of the success of nonfiction cinema, Deep Blue is following in the footsteps of last year’s Travelling Birds; with a similar tale of years-long development, intensive footage fathering and pioneering filmmaking methods to do so. The result is astounding pictures whose set-up defies the imagination and a lush scene design tailor made for the big screen.

It’s a far cry from sitting in the AV room in primary school watching videos of salmon jumping up waterfalls or lions sleeping lazily in trees. This is David Attenborough directed by Yimou Zhang.

Because where boring old wildlife documentaries you used to watch on TV were education, Deep Blue is poetry.

Never mentioning where we are (despite having been filmed in over 30 locations on virtually every continent — including Antarctica), directors Fothergill and Byatt instead show us the beauty, tyranny and terror of life in the ocean as a whole, from the coasts to the darkest depths.

The poetry is also in the narration, where UK actor Michael Gambon (different voices are accompanying the film depending on the language of the region) rarely refers to ‘the water’ or ‘the shallows’, but uses terms like ‘liquid space’, ‘endless desert of blue’ and the like.

After preparation and filming for over 3000 days, the 400 camera operators have achieved some striking footage, and its natural that they met with some firsts. Besides discovering completely new species of jellyfish and octopi in the crushing depths, it’s also the first time you’ll ever see the hunting of a grey whale pup by killer whales on film.

Like nature itself, some of the film is unavoidably grisly, despite the lush musical score and reverent camerawork. Not only are we treated to scene after scene of waves at the shore metamorphosising into giant black killer whales as they snatch sealion pups from the beach, we watch them tossing their prey into the air like cats with a mouse.

Some of it’s also naturally terrifying; when night descends, white-tipped reef sharks converge onto a coral reef in dozens to feed on the fish hiding under the corals. When one is found, dozens of sharks dart in like missiles, thrashing and kicking up an explosion of sand from the bottom in a feeding frenzy that leaves even several of their own number dead. And all this is just metres from a cameraman floating calmly in the water watching it all.

Much of it is simply fascinating, like the tornado-shaped shoal of fish that drifts and spins with the collective movement of thousands of its members. When a dolphin or other predator zooms in, a hole in a solid wall of fish appears and the attacker darts through.

There’s also an inevitable environmental message, but mostly the makers of Deep Blue want you to leave the cinema with the same sense of awe they must have had seeing just some of the things that make it into the final cut.

If there’s any criticism to be had, it takes patience. Long pauses between the narration mark slow sequences that start to look a bit the same after while, and younger filmgoers will get fidgety waiting for some excitement.

And while it’s not fully intended to be an educational film, the script they gave Gambon could have been fleshed out a little. It’s mostly snatches of lyrical verse in praise of as many metaphors for water as they could think up.

We seem to leap from one location and animal to the next with little rhyme or reason as well, and you can’t help feeling the whole thing could have been edited a little better and tighter. From the amount of film they must have accumulated, they must have had enough for ten movies — it seems a waste spending so many long stretches on similar stuff.

So if you’re at all interested in what happens past that spot where the waves start to break, don’t delay. If you wait to see it on video, you’ll miss three quarters of the effect.


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