Wonders Of The Sea


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Wonders Of The Sea 3D
"A chance to see the seas in a new way." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

David Attenborough recently asserted that if 30% of the world's oceans could be made into marine protected areas, the ocean ecosystem as a whole could be managed sustainably and much of the damage of climate change averted. In this documentary, Jean-Michel Cousteau echoes that point, saying "the ocean is forgiving." When he speaks on behalf of one of its more charismatic inhabitants, well, you can guess how Arnold Schwarzenegger phrases it. He's a fitting narrator for a documentary which argues, in the spirit of Terminator 2, that there is no fate but what we make.

Having contributed significantly to the adoption of renewable energy systems in California, Schwarzenegger is no stranger to environmental concerns, but he is new to this type of narration. He handles it well, his lingering Austrian accent contrasting nicely with Cousteau's French one and helping to emphasise the point that this is an international issue. Also contributing are Cousteau's adult children, Fabien and Céline. Like everyone in their family, they were raised with the assurance that they could pursue any career that called to them, yet they both fell in love with the water. Here, they invite viewers to do likewise.

Whilst the BBC's underwater wildlife photography is much admired, it tends to be shot in a very particular style and much of it focuses again and again on the same familiar creatures. Wonders Of The Sea is very different. Sure, there's a section on sharks, but it's unlike any shark footage you've seen before (there is no shark that Jean-Michel is afraid of; he's happy to swim right up to them unless they signal that they want him to go away). There's a section on reefs where e briefly see clownfish but it goes on to introduce less commonly featured inhabitants of the coral world, with a special focus on the very small. New filming techniques were developed, over several years, to capture these experiences and more. Even if you see this without the 3D effect present in the theatrical version, you'll be impressed by its differentness. It's a chance to see the seas in a new way.

Not everything here is successful. Some sections, charming as they are, drag on for a bit too long, and in places the narration feels padded. Fans of nature footage will be in their element, however, and the film is full of moments of thrilling beauty - to have to be patient sometimes perhaps brings viewers closer to the experiences of divers themselves. In one section, Céline talks us through a night dive - with utter blackness all around, it's difficult to measure time and there's an omnipresent risk of slipping too low, making it impossible to complete a safe return to the surface before air runs out. Why does she do it? Because down there, in the dark, phosphorescent zooplankton create magical displays, like living auroras. It's a sight that seems alien, a reminder of how unfamiliar we really are with much of our world.

By the time we reach them, we have witnessed so much beauty that scenes of a dead reef are devastating. We don't stay there for long - this is a film about hope, a call for positive action - but the warning is a potent one. We are also reminded that marine life forms sequester more carbon than rainforests and are vital producers of oxygen, providing the very air we breathe. This is a film that calls upon viewers to protect this resource for our own sake and so that people - Cousteaus or not - can carry on falling in love with it for generations to come.

You can pre-order Wonders Of The Sea here.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2019
Nature documentary, narrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Director: Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jean-Jacques Mantello

Writer: David Chocron, Francois Mantello, Jean-Jacques Mantello

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Fabien Cousteau, Celine Cousteau

Year: 2017

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: UK, France


SSFF 2017

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