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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Oceans

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service


A scuba diver swims next to a great white shark in the movie "Oceans."
The second movie released under Walt Disney Studios' new nature label is even more ambitious and wide-ranging than last year's "Earth." Arriving in theaters on Earth Day 2010, "Oceans" (Disneynature) offers as many visual delights as its predecessor while making a surprisingly sophisticated, indeed metaphysical, argument for responsible environmental stewardship.

Shot over a four-year period, the marine documentary has a poetic, meditative quality that ultimately echoes even more resoundingly than its portrayal of the awesome power and tumultuous wonders of the sea. The best nature films present spectacular pictures, tell a dramatic story (which usually entails a high degree of anthropomorphizing) and impart facts. Co-directors and writers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, who previously collaborated on the Academy Award-nominated "Winged Migration," don't skimp on arresting images but have difficulty piecing together a cohesive narrative.

And because they decline to transmit much data, at times the viewer is left wanting more explanatory detail.

Their stated goal is to provide an emotional experience that will heighten viewer sensitivity to the aquatic ecosystem. Although they touch on a handful of ways in which the human race threatens the oceans (seeing fish caught in commercial nets is particularly poignant), their philosophical approach sees mankind as the potential hero of the piece, not merely its villain. Messieurs Perrin and Cluzaud are hopeful, accurately contending that our collective will to protect the ocean has never been stronger.

They begin by posing the question "What is the sea?" and end by claiming that to understand the ocean is to put a mirror up to ourselves. The journey of communal self-examination they lead spans all five oceans, submerging viewers into the waters off the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, South Africa and the Antarctic in loosely connected sequences featuring myriad sea creatures, both familiar and exotic.

Highlights include a thrilling segment during which hosts of marine birds, sharks and whales simultaneously feast on schools of sardines; a suspenseful nighttime visit to the ocean floor; and dynamic footage of dolphins playfully cutting through the deep. Cooperation between different species is showcased as prominently as predation. And those needing their penguin fix won't be disappointed.

Visually, "Oceans" scores high marks, and it's a bit surprising that the movie isn't being released in 3-D or on Imax screens. The 35mm digital cinematography is most remarkable for its ability to capture fast movement. Sonic phenomena -- birdcalls, whale songs, plus the sounds of churning, storm-tossed waters—are as memorable as the film's eye-catching splendors. They're well matched by the pleasing tones of narrator Pierce Brosnan.

The message that conservation is in humankind's self-interest and that we must endeavor to live in harmony with every denizen of the sea is unassailable.

In addition to refraining from eco-scaremongering, the filmmakers avoid disturbing images. When, for instance, killer whales and great white sharks are seen hunting sea lions and fur seals, or frigate birds pluck newly hatched turtles from the sand, they cut away before showing anything too graphic, and so the film contains nothing objectionable. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G—general audiences. All ages admitted.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting.




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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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