To sail professionally requires top physical stamina, quick thinking skills, and a dash of insanity.
Disney's new documentary 'Morning Light' chronicles the journey of a group of young kids who are given the chance, by Mr. Roy Disney, to sail a top-of-the-line sailboat in the prestigious Transpacific sailing race. Called the Transpac for short, the race covers 2,225 nautical miles over open ocean. Beginning off the coast of California, the competitors sail all the way to Diamond Head Point off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.
'Morning Light' is the story about the journey of this young crew which was pieced together by Roy Disney from a pile of hopeful applicants. The reason this is such a big deal is that the sailors who make up the Transpac field of competitors are usually extremely seasoned veterans with more than 20-30 years under their belts. Most of them have been sailing longer than anyone on the Morning Light crew has been alive.
Roy Disney is confident that he can take these young sailors, some with only a few years experience racing small one-man yachts, and mold them into sailors able to take on the grueling Transpac.
The film begins in Hawaii. The 538 applicants have been carved down to a field of 15. Only 11 can go on the boat, so there will be four alternates. It's up to the kids to decide who the skipper will be, and who will stay on land as the rest get the experience of a lifetime. In a unanimous vote they choose Aussie Jeremy Wilmot as their skipper. He's the one with the most sailing experience and he routinely shows his leadership skills every time they are out practicing.
When it comes time for Jeremy to choose the people who are going on the boat, and the people that have to stay, you can tell it's hard on everyone. No one wants to be the person to decide someone's fate, but that's the beginning of the tough decisions they'll have to make on the open sea.
The simple goal of a documentary should be to take a subject that the masses know little or nothing about and make it exciting. 'Morning Light' does exactly that. It's easy to feel the tension as the boats take off from the California coast. Some of these kids have never sailed such a huge vessel and the looks on some of their faces are ones of sheer terror. Sure they prepped and prepped for the voyage, the first 30 minutes of the documentary are about the training, but nothing could prepare them for what they were going to experience.
It's hard for 'Morning Light' to pack in information about all the crew members though, and it doesn't take enough time explaining the mechanics of sailing for those of us that know nothing about the sport. Also, some of the scenes feel forced, almost like a reality TV show. For example when one of the alternates is communicating through e-mail with his buddy on the boat (apparently they get some really good reception out there) it seems staged for effect and not organic. But, most of the stuff that takes place on the boat seems very genuine, and gives you an idea of what it's actually like to be on a boat with 11 people over the course of 10 days. It's pretty cramped.
You feel for the young crew when they're forced to make a decision whether to go North or South around the high pressure spot in the middle of the Pacific. If you sail into it, there's no wind and you'll stop dead. Will they make the right decision, will they stay with the field? Or will they find themselves wishing they had more experience when it came to making these decisions?
'Morning Light' shows the growth of a group of young kids, and the raw talent that is lying dormant within them. They just needed someone like Roy Disney to give them that chance. I have a new respect for sailing now. I never knew how technical and how physically demanding it actually was.
It's a little hard to quantify the picture quality of 'Morning Light's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, because it had so many different sources used for recording. The scenes captured with the high-def cameras are exquisite and reminded me of the ‘Planet Earth' series. Other scenes are recorded with night vision cameras that aren't near the quality of the high-def cameras, producing a grainy mess of a picture.
Regarding the scenes filmed in high-def: They're amazing. The ocean is a deep, rich blue. The sun and clouds are captured with extreme clarity. Skin tones are perfect and allow you to get an up-close and personal look at how 10 days on a boat can really wreak havoc on your face. Every drop of water is visible in a few slow motion shots showing the crew climbing out of the water into a life-raft during an safety exercise.
Fly-over shots of downtown Long Beach and tropical Hawaii are crystal clear. The movie is full of color which just pops. Watching from a distance as Morning Light cuts through the water is a sight to behold.
With the other shots, whether it be old stock footage, night vision cameras, or just some traditional film stock, it's hard to tell if there are really any compression or encoding problems. Most of the grainy, hazy footage can just be chalked up to the recording source.
In a documentary it's important that dialogue be presented front and center. Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track does just that. Each character narrates the journey a little, while interviews with Roy Disney and his colleagues are interspersed throughout the film. The voiceovers and the interviews are nice and clear. The surround channels present a fine mix of ocean sounds, like birds squawking and wind blowing.
Some of the pop songs chosen for the soundtrack are a bit grating and at times overpower the sound effects and voices. Main dialogue from the crew that isn't in interview form is sketchy at times. Basically it's hard to hear someone talk while waves are crashing and the wind is whistling. This can be attributed to the nature of the documentary though, and not to ineptitude on the part of the sound editors.
It's a clean track, but it isn't as immersive as some might like. Plus, like I said, the overpowering screech of some of the pop songs really takes you out of the moment.
'Morning Light' is an enjoyable, documentary that chronicles not only the journey of these young sailors, but the courage of the human spirit. While sometimes the movie lags in places and doesn't build the tension as much as it could, it still provides us with an informative look inside the world of professional sailing. It's got all the elements of a decent drama, but this all really happened. 'Morning Light' is a recommended, but only as a rental. There's some neat stuff here, but it's not worth watching multiple times.
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