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May 9, 2010

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Habitats of wonder

FISH that look like rocks -- or scarves, or a jeweled brooch, or anything but fish -- are among the fascinating underwater creatures that inhabit "Oceans."

This stunningly beautiful documentary is the second in a series from the new Disney nature label, which gave us "Earth" exactly one year ago on Earth Day. Whereas that film followed wildlife across the globe, "Oceans" takes a plunge deep into its waters, with jaw-dropping results.

Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud provide a truly immersive experience, without the three-dimensional IMAX effects of the similar, and similarly awe-inspiring, "Under the Sea 3-D" from 2009. Having spent seven years working on "Oceans," including four years gathering footage, they have created countless how'd-they-get-that? shots. It took them 28 weeks of waiting, for example, to acquire their up-close-and-personal moments with a blue whale, a creature a half-block long and weighing 120 tons.

That is among the nuggets information narrator Pierce Brosnan provides in his soothing Irish tones. At times, the script veers toward the cutesy, but that probably is to make "Oceans" as palatable as possible for young viewers for whom much of the film is intended.

It is not just the images themselves that are striking, but also the way in which they are pieced together. Perrin and Cluzaud, who also directed the Oscar-nominated documentary "Winged Migration," have crafted a nonfiction film that is shot and edited like a feature.

They make us feel an emotional connection as we watch the intimacy of a female walrus delicately caring for her pup, or the heartbreaking sight of baby sea turtles scurrying across the sand for their tiny lives just moments after being hatched. (This would be a good time to urge you to bring tissues.)

Meanwhile, along the shore, sea otters frolic in Monterey Bay and penguins in the Arctic emerge from the frigid water, only to shake themselves off and waddle away. The adorable factor is high.

Still other moments are striking for their enormity: scads of spider crabs crawling over each other in undulating waves across the ocean floor, or sea birds dive-bombing the surface in symphonic fashion as they hunt for fish, with scores of dolphins leaping and twisting among them. The sweeping score from French composer Bruno Coulais, who also worked on "Winged Migration," heightens these scenes.

It is highly unlikely that people would ever have the opportunity to witness such spectacles in person; Perrin and Cluzaud scoured all five oceans to bring them to you. And Brosnan, as narrator, reminds us that all this majesty is in danger: Like "Earth" and "Under the Sea 3-D," "Oceans" includes a message about the importance of protecting from pollution and climate change our underwater expanses and the beings that call them home.

These are familiar but, unfortunately, still necessary words to hear.


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