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Deep Blue (2004)

Directed by:

Alastair Fothergill

Andy Byatt

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 87 minutes

US Certificate: G UK Certificate: E

On DVD

Country: Germany, United Kingdom

Following the success of ‘The Blue Planet’, an extraordinary oceanographic documentary series made for television by the BBC Natural History Unit and Discovery, its composer George Fenton performed some of his score to a live audience with images from the show back-projected onto a screen in the auditorium. The results proved to be so impressive, and made for such a different viewing experience from the original, that the ‘Blue Planet’ team decided to create a new, feature length version, to be entitled ‘Deep Blue’, which would reveal the wonders of the sea to a film-going audience.

Determined to make the film a separate entity from the TV series, they used an eye-popping widescreen format, perfect both for capturing the expansive grandeur of the oceans and for showing individual organisms in unprecedentedly detailed close-up. While the essential elements of Fenton’s soundtrack were already in place, he rearranged and re-recorded it with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (their first ever score for cinema), bringing it a new majesty better suited to the big screen. The comforting tones of David Attenborough, deemed to be too closely associated with television, were replaced by the richer timbres of actor Michael Gambon, while the scientific language of the original here gives way to a far more poetic register, with abstract expressions like “boneless ones”, “night feeders”, “wandering giants” and “lonely traveller in liquid space” regularly substituted for more strictly taxonomical terminology.

So where the TV series sought understanding and appreciation from its viewers, ‘Deep Blue’ seeks rather to fill them with a sense of mouth-gaping awe. And that it does, be it with the playful dance of the dolphins, the massed flight of albatrosses, the march of a crab army, the swirling vortex of panicked sardines, the majestic passage of a whale shark, the eerie pulsations of jelly fish, a relentless nighthunt by a pack of white-tipped sharks, the rapid rocketing of emperor penguins from ocean onto iceshelf, the desperate arching of beluga whales at a tiny airhole in the ice, the struggle of a baby grey whale against the onslaught of killer whales, a vast gathering of hammerheads, the psychedelic lightshow displayed by the alien creatures of the deep, the ‘flight’ of a flock of sheerwaters through water, or the breaching of a giant blue whale. The film’s sweeping cinematography and magisterial scale are as humbling as they are beautiful, reducing even the most jaded of viewers to wide-eyed submission.

It was inevitable that ‘Deep Blue’ should be compared to Pixar’s animated underwater adventure Finding Nemo – and although the real thing turns out to be far more breathtaking than its computer generated counterpart, one lesson that might have been learnt from the Disney subsidiary is the value of narrative. For even if there is a vague geographical progression detectable in ‘Deep Blue’ from coastline to coral reef, from polar icecaps to the open sea, and then right into the depths of the ocean floor and back again to the surface, the film is a largely shapeless affair, with no real beginning, middle or end (even if it closes literally with a giant tail disappearing into the brine), and while clearly the story of, say, a meek clownfish’s mission to rescue his son from a dentist’s fishtank would be entirely inappropriate here, the editing (from 7,000 hours of footage) and narration would nonetheless have benefitted from a greater sense of direction – something which, after all, the original ‘The Blue Planet’ managed to convey perfectly despite its much greater length.

It's Got: Plenty of fish in the sea – as well as mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and plants.

It Needs: A bit more narrative drive to give the film a greater sense of shape.

DVD Extras A superb 2-disc edition. Disc 1 features scene selection; choice of stereo 2.0/Dolby digital 5.1, and even a narration-free soundtrack which isolates the music and effects; and a trailer. Disc 2 features interactive DVD-Rom materials; The Making of Deep Blue (52min), including interviews with the two directors, the composer, several cinematographers and producers, and telling the story of the patience, professionalism, ingenuity and sheer luck required to capture some of the shots (e.g. 200 days of filming on the open sea yielded just five minutes of footage); interview with composer George Fenton (23min) - who does not dive- about his adaptation of the soundtrack from the TV series and his collaboration with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; a photo gallery of 55 lavish stills; an audio commentary on (very many) selected scenes by directors Alastair Fothergill and Andy Byatt, in which they discuss, amongst other things, the slow process of waiting for creatures to film, the Hitchcockean editing style for the shark hunt, the dangers of photographing polar bears, and the deliberate decision not to foreground environmental issues - and, touchingly, Byatt reveals that he still gets upset by the sequence where the killer whales drown the baby grey, even though he has seen it hundreds of times. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

Atlantis, Finding Nemo, Ghosts of the Abyss, The Blue Planet (TV series)

Summary

A spectacular evocation of life in the world's waters, even if at times it meanders like the ocean currents.

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