Deep Blue Review
From the statistics this documentary boasts, having been over 5 years in production, and with more than 7000 hours of footage shot by 20 specialised camera teams 200 locations, it’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into Deep Blue. It does indeed sound a lot like the successful television series The Blue Planet, but it’s not just a lazy comparison, Deep Blue was created as a cinematic counterpart for the series.
Right from the beginning shots of huge expanses of water and colossal waves to seagulls flying in their thousands and schools of fish too thick to see through, you can get an idea of the magnitude of both the documentary, and the sea itself. This is also when we hear the first words from our narrator, the British actor of stage and screen, Michael Gambon.
The opening scene is a great introduction to the competitive nature of the oceans, showing both dolphins and gulls trying in vain to catch fish, before a whale of Moby Dick proportions eclipses them all and swallows what must be thousands of the fish, in one effortless movement. The next sequence also emphasises the dominance of those at the top of the food chain, with a killer whale mercilessly maiming several seals, at one point literally flinging one pup across the water as we would skim a stone.
Sound is always one of the most important factors in a documentary, and of course that’s no exception here. Somehow, five-time Oscar nominee Gorge Fenton, who was responsible for the still-popular music for The Blue Planet (and feature films such as Ghandi and The Fisher King among others), has managed to create a score that is as stunning and memorable as the events on screen. Although predominately epic and grandiose, Fenton isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun, as demonstrated by the Latin theme towards the beginning when crabs are shown ‘dancing’ and rolling spheres of sand across the beach like footballs.
Over the remainder of the film, we’re treated to a huge variety of other animals, most of whom disappointingly remain unnamed, including some stunning images of jellyfish lighting up the dark depths like neon signs, polar bears which aren’t quite as cute or innocent as the ones we’ll be seeing in Coca-Cola adverts come Christmas, and our, always amusing, non-feathered friends, penguins.
Just when the film seems to be dragging a little, once the filmmaking crew submerge themselves to new and unexplored depths at just over the hour mark, we’re introduced to some wonderfully eccentric and unusual creatures. Having evolved to create their own natural light sources to illuminate the pitch-black depths (this is going from my hazy knowledge of Biology, the film neglects to explain most things), it means that these curious animals are mainly translucent but lit up like pinball machines. Even deeper now, and the inhabitants are getting consistently weirder. We’re occasionally shown shots of the submarine-esque vehicle that they’re using in order to film at these depths, and with two incredibly bright lights at the front, one wonders if it blinds those creatures there, who are used to total darkness. Sadly, it’s merely yet another topic that’s never touched upon in the documentary.
We’re taken deeper still, and now the filmmakers are down in the Mariana Trench, an inconceivable seven miles down towards the Earth’s core. The ridges are the largest geographical structures on Earth, stretching over 30 000 miles, and it’s so stunning looking at the footage that I found myself constantly checking to see if it was perhaps CGI, so unbelievable is the sheer enormity of it all. Finally, back to the surface, and the film ends with a stunning display of the oceanic food chain in action, similar to how it started.
Unfortunately, despite all the stunning cinematography and endlessly intriguing visuals, it’s frustrating just how little information we’re given about the creatures on screen. Whilst there’s no doubt that the images tell many a story by themselves, the documentary suffers when you don’t even know what the various animals are, let alone what’s going on. It’s this lack of the narrator stating anything more than the obvious that separates this from The Blue Planet. The latter had an endless depth of educational merit that matched the chasms explored on screen, and in comparison, Deep Blue seems more like a 90 minute music video, just not of the MTV variety.
Deep Blue is an interesting and captivating film throughout, alternating scenes of tranquillity with thrilling demonstrations of natural selection. However, there’s always an underlying sense that you’ve seen it all before, especially if you’ve seen The Blue Planet, which of course featured the same subject matter.
The quality of the picture is amazing, especially when you consider the logistics behind filming at such extraordinary depths, and often focusing on such minute, fast-moving creatures. It’s also great to see some of the corals and fish exhibiting strong colours such as reds and yellows, which contrast nicely against the blue hues of the sea, but still look natural thanks to the transfer.
Everything is nice and crisp throughout, and there’s little to no print damage. Grain is occasionally present, but it occurs during segments when they’ve been using techniques such as time-lapse photography, or filming in exceptionally harsh conditions, so it’s not the transfer itself at fault.
For the feature, you have the option of either a Stereo 2.0, or Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The former is clear enough, but to truly appreciate the magnificent score then you’ll want to make sure to hear the 5.1 track. Although the rear speakers are never dramatically used, the surround sound does generally create a much more involving and impressive audio environment. There’s also an Audio and Effects Only option, which keeps the 5.1 track but removes dialogue, for those who perhaps might want to put it on in the background and just listen to the music. However, the sound effects are still present and loud, as always, so you’re not getting the soundtrack for free, as it were.
Presented as a 2-disc affair, the first DVD contains only the feature and a Trailer (2’07”), which for some reason, on my copy, didn’t contain any sound whatsoever. Whether intentionally mute or not, it’s hardly demo material.
The majority of the extras are on the second DVD. Firstly, and also the most substantial extra feature, is The Making of Deep Blue (52’00”), which features contributions from the directors Alastair Fothergill and Andy Byatt, producers Alix Tidmarsh and Sophokles Tasioulis, and many others. They talk about both the obvious difficulties, such as actually finding subjects to film in the huge expanses of ocean (they only managed to film the main whale on the very last of their 3000 days of filming), and more specific technical details, such as operating machinery at temperatures of minus sixty. It’s a truly interesting companion to the main feature, and it makes it a lot easier to appreciate just how difficult it must have been for the filmmakers, who had to use seaplanes, tiny acrylic spherical submarines with little life support, and all sorts of other dangerous vehicles and machines to film what you’ve just watched. “More people have travelled into space than the ocean floor” – that quote really does sum it up. One might be a lot more romanticised and glamorous than the other, but they both seem to be equally as dangerous.
Next up is an Interview with George Fenton (22’38”). The composer tries to keep things easy to understand, and it’s definitely interesting for the first few minutes, but with no clips from the documentary to illustrate what he’s talking about, twenty minutes does seem to be quite long, unless you’re very interested in the composer and his processes.
The Photo Gallery contains 55 still shots from the documentary. I can never quite see the point of these features, as you’ll have already seen all of the photos, but it’s there if you want it.
Then there is Commentary on Selected Scenes with the two directors. There are 12 scenes in all, which amounts to roughly the whole of the length of the feature, so it seems strange to me that they couldn’t have just had a feature-length audio commentary. Whilst it is easier to some extent, with the scenes broken up like this, it strikes me that the people interested in listening to an audio commentary, would be interested in hearing it for the whole of the film, which makes splitting it up rather redundant. The commentary is fairly interesting, but the directors often overlap what was mentioned in the Making Of featurette.
There is also DVD-Rom content, which consists of some lo-res, highly uninspiring wallpapers for your desktop, that are ruined by large black banners containing the URL to the film’s website. We’ve already bought the DVD guys – you can stop advertising now…
There are no subtitles for the feature itself, or the extras. Chapters for the feature are separated by subject, rather than at specific time intervals.
Deep Blue is a thoroughly competent, interesting film, but doesn’t quite have anything that gives it an extra edge over other similar documentaries. If you’ve seen The Blue Planet then you should know what to expect from this. It’s similar, but thankfully never to the extent that you feel like you’ve already seen it. The 2-DVD set presents it very well indeed, accentuating many of its qualities such as the transcendent score, and features a fair few extras as well.