Dir. Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
(2010, G, 86 min)
★ ★ ★

My first question before seeing Oceans was, “Does this film need to exist?” I watched the Discovery Channel’s exquisite nature miniseries Planet Earth in 2007 and this year’s follow-up Life, which in their combined 20 hours covered virtually all walks of life, including more oceanic ecosystems than this film can cover in its 86 minutes, so why pay to see it?

Oceans doesn’t have footage to quite match either Discovery miniseries — and none from the greatest depths, where the wildlife rivals Avatar in otherworldly biodiversity — but that’s an unreasonably high bar to set. Its imagery is vivid, and the elegance of its style surprising. With a grand score composed by Bruno Coulais, directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud make their aquatic sequences into dances, finding artistry in the animals’ complex, synchronized movements, including one remarkable shot of a school of fish arranged into a vortex that transforms its shape with remarkable fluidity.

One of the film’s most impressive sequences doesn’t include wildlife at all; it shows a ship as it rises and falls on massive waves that illustrate the grandeur of the open water; in graceful slow-motion, we see cascading mists of water wash over the vessel, sometimes seeming to swallow it whole. During scenes like these I’m reminded of Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog’s idiosyncratic documentary about Antarctica, which was more interested in the experience of nature than in instructional lessons about it.

The film flags when it transitions to Inconvenient Truth-style satellite images of pollution and some didactic philosophizing about mankind’s responsibility to the environment. Pierce Brosnan narrates, and at the beginning and end poses a fairly silly question and presumes we’ve all asked it: “What is the ocean?” I think such elements are designed to appeal to the younger members of its target audience, and as an introduction to environmental awareness it succeeds with visual and musical flair, but when the kids’ interest is piqued, they may find their imaginations more greatly inspired by the films that have already aired.