'Planet Ocean' is 'Planet Earth' with a heavier agenda. It has as much beautiful photography as the famed British nature documentary series, but it also concedes that it's a propaganda film. Now, I don't reference the term "propaganda" in a negative light. I'm purely trying to get across to you that 'Planet Ocean' has a message that, at times, is extremely heavy-handed. I have no problem with a movie espousing beliefs, I detest ones that throw a bunch of problems at us and then provides no real solutions. 'Planet Ocean' has solutions, which is nice for those who want to listen.
The problem is, I fear, that this movie is preaching to the choir. The term "global warming" has become such a heated topic over the last decade that people now swear by it or against it. It seems that there's no middle ground. It's either human caused, or a cyclical cycle of nature that we as humans are doing nothing to exacerbate. While the movie touches on that, and makes no bones that it's firmly in the human-caused camp, it's more about pinpointing exactly what humans are doing to the world's oceans and its inhabitants.
It may still be a battle between factions trying to surmise if humans really are causing global warming, but there's no doubt that we're overfishing and depleting oceanic resources at an alarming rate. 'Planet Ocean' directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand ('Home') and Michael Pitiot shines some specific light on our gluttonous fishing practices, among other things.
The movie starts out simple enough. Josh Duhamel ('Transformers') narrates as the camera flies over scenic views of waves crashing against cliffs. The narration is forcefully poetic and feels, at times, overindulgent. He waxes on about the sea and the way it interacts with us. The way it drives winds and currents. The way it feeds millions of people. He's no Richard Attenborough, but he'll do.
It starts off focusing on the microbial bacteria that calls the ocean home. This bacteria feeds bigger bacteria, which feed small fish, which feed bigger fish, and so on up to humans. At first this is a nature documentary focused on bringing us some stunning underwater cinematography. As the movie moves further up the food chain its message becomes clear. Fish are hauled from the sea by fishermen in endless nets. The nets scoop up anything and everything, it's all sorted out later. The waste is tossed back into the ocean.
The results are staggering, but to the people already concerned with overfishing this is nothing new. Maybe it might convince a few people from the other side that things need to change before we overfish everything in the ocean, but that remains to be seen.
I've seen plenty of eco-friendly docs that shine glaring light on devious human practices, but they never really approach the solution side of things. Instead they leave us with this doom and gloom message, and a simple "Change starts with you," motto and they're done.
'Planet Ocean' does have a certain doom and gloom feel to it, but the entire end is focused on giving ideas on how to solve many of the problems raised in the doc. I'm not an expert, so I don't know if these solutions would really fix everything going on, but it was nice to be faced with something concrete as far as answers were concerned once the end rolled around.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Universal release. It comes in a standard keepcase. The movie has been pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. There is a slipcover provided (which seems wasteful, hopefully it was made of recycled material) that has the same artwork as the case.
Here's where things get tricky. Universal's 1080p presentation is often demo-quality. Some of the shots here are as magnificent in clarity and scope as any of the shots in 'Planet Earth' or 'Life'. There are some amazing vistas and stunning images of the ocean crashing against cliffs, and surging with tremendous waves. As cameras sweep across coral reefs the colors are astonishingly bright and vivid. The picture is extremely clear. Thousands of fish are distinctly visible, their edges all easily discerned. So why did 'Planet Ocean' get such a low score considering all that? One word: banding.
The banding here is bad, borderline atrocious. Whenever the sun cuts through the water, huge, visible color bands appear where gradients should be. Banding frequently mucks up otherwise beautiful images. The picturesque scenery is hijacked by ugly pulsating bands moving in from the corners and the shadows. I was sad that it was so frequent and so blatant. It's easy to write off minor banding here and there, but when it's this bad and this prevalent it has a tendency to overshadow all the good achieved.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, on the other hand, does an exemplary job conveying the varied sounds that the ocean has to offer. Crashing waves fill the soundfield. Sweeping winds travel from one channel to another smoothly. Directionality is superb. Ambiance adds another dimension to the mix. This is a nice sounding nature documentary.
The narration is clear and always produced through the center channel. There were a few lines spoken by Duhamel that felt as if they might have been added in at a later point because they were mixed slightly louder and lower than the rest of the narration.
Rear channels catch the encompassing nature of the ocean well. Cawing gulls, surging waves, whipping winds, thrashing sharks; the ocean is all around you. Music is a little overbearing at times. Mostly it's due to the fact that the music is as overly dramatic as the poetic narration. Even so, it is clearly presented in the front channels, bleeding into the rear channels when it really wants to make its emotional point.
Many will think that 'Planet Ocean' is far too heavy-handed for their liking. It does have some important messages to get across, though the movie is better when it's focusing more on the vibrancy and beauty of the ocean than when it focuses on the doom and gloom of what we're doing to our planet. Offering up real, specific solutions was a good touch though. Sadly, the often times beautiful video is marred with unsightly banding. The audio mix is nicely done though. It's worth a look if you're interested.