As someone who considers himself an environmentalist, I’m supposed to tell you how great the new Disneynature movie Oceans is and that you just have to go see it. But you know what? About an hour into watching the movie tonight I couldn’t help from thinking, “God, this sucks.”
Without a doubt the movie is beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the nighttime shots of the coral reef, the bait balls of mackerel and sardines, the spider crabs, the dolphins, the whales, and the blanket octopus.
Yet although beautiful, the movie lacks a soul. No story is told; no lesson imparted. The film is just 87 minutes of, “whoa, did you see that!” and “man, that is so cool!”
I think I get what the filmmakers were trying to do. They were aiming for warm and fuzzy. They were thinking that if they show some high definition video of a couple of cute little sea otters, environmentally conscious kids across the globe will pressure their parents into buying sustainable seafood, or something along those lines. I like to call it feel-good environmentalism.
Hasn’t the environmental movement grown beyond that? Maybe I’m expecting too much of Disney, a company best known for making children’s films, but I really expected there to be some sort of take home message or lesson. And I mean a lesson other than polar bears and walruses are adorable.
Oceans does not paint a realistic portrait of the state of the ocean. Yes, all the things they recorded exist and with enough time and enough money you could go see them, but the film barely scratched the surface on the influence humans are having on the world’s oceans.
In the film we see tuna being caught in a purse seine and the problem of bycatch gets a brief mention as turtles and a whale shark are shown trapped in nets; we also see a sea lion swimming in polluted waters. But those scenes are short and transition quickly to some ice-skating penguins. No kidding.
The problem of marine debris is glanced over; there is no mention of over-fishing; and nothing is said of reducing the amount of plastic we use or of the benefits of creating marine protected areas.
I was expecting so much more from this film. The impression one gets when they leave the theater is that the ocean is teaming with life, is spectacular beyond belief. In reality, however, the oceans we have today have but a fraction of the plentitude known by previous generations.
Even in my own lifetime I’ve seen that plentitude diminished. The ocean I knew as a child is not the ocean I know today. When I was young we never had to check to see if the beach was “red-flagged.” There were also a lot more fish back then.
I’m not that old, either. One can only imagine how much we’ve lost since the time of my grandparents.
Ignoring the facts on the state of our oceans will do us no good. This movie should have included footage of the Japanese slaughter of whales (despite worldwide bans on whaling), marine debris washing up on Midway or Maug (two of the most remote places on Earth), hunting for bluefin tuna with helicopters (because they are more rare than polar bears), harvesting of turtle eggs for food (or harvesting turtles for that matter), driving over turtle nests in pickup trucks, dumping trash in the ocean, ghost nets and ghost traps killing fish, a bottom trawler scraping the ocean floor, a shrimp boat throwing bycatch overboard, dynamite fishing, tourists stepping on coral reefs, SCUBA divers collecting live corals, shark finning, and any number of unsustainable activities that people currently undertake in our oceans.
Or maybe I’m just taking this movie way too seriously. Those ice-skating penguins were really cute, after all.