Oceans of beauty and delight

Documentary `Blue' goes deep without being too educational


July 29, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Deep Blue is pure bliss. This documentary about ocean life in all its forms achieves its own tidal pull with visual marvels that conjure a Darwinian delirium.

At key moments, birds and fish and sea mammals of every size flood the screen simultaneously. Their grace and speed belie the survival-urge that drives them on. But the cameras of Andy Byatt and Alastair Fothergill (who worked on the BBC/Discovery Channel documentary TV series The Blue Planet) reveal the mysteries of their movements with hypnotic lucidity.

In one stunning sequence near the beginning, dolphins perform full-body jetes as they devour a shoal of sardines. Sharks soon enter the feast; seabirds flock down to feed from the air. Then a gigantic whale guzzles down entire schools of the small fish in one belly-filling swoop.

It's an action painting of black and white feathers and copper-and-tin-colored whale skin and gray and silver shark streaks. And it's a sight so full of authentic shock and awe that any taint of sensationalism or sadism falls away before the wonder of the working-out of nature. Amazingly, the filmmakers top this, near the end, when dolphins, birds and tuna advance on sardines that move like an enormous tornado in the water.

Even when matters of life and death are more individual in Deep Blue, the directors' craft invests them with a primal elegance. Killer whales pummel sea lions in a spectacle of might. In a display of eerie, gliding choreography, nocturnal hunters and prey emerge from coral reefs in forms that might have been sculpted by a mad woodsman - including the perfectly nicknamed "walking bush." When Deep Blue touches on more familiar characters, it typically reveals unusual facets - such as polar bears diving and paddling underwater or attacking Beluga whales in ice holes.

They're all part of an experience that encompasses the skies above and the seas below at breathtaking heights and depths. Deep Blue reaches from the glittering lights of the aurora australis, which illuminate the emperor penguins in the Arctic winter, to the abyss that hosts bizarre life forms around the hot vents of a volcanic ridge. The movie manages to be mind-expanding without being traditionally educational. It rouses our curiosity while slaking our thirst for wildness, surprise and beauty.

Deep Blue

A documentary by Andy Byatt and Alastair Fothergill

Narrated by Pierce Brosnan

Released by Miramax

Rated G

Time 90 minutes

Sun Score **** (four stars)

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