Disney // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // June 18th, 2009
A 2,500-mile journey that will change the course of their lives forever.
I'm by no means an expert, but just by the looks of it, sailing thousands of miles across the dangerous ocean seems to be a challenge that requires both plenty of determination and physical endurance. In Walt Disney's documentary Morning Light, a group of young, passionate sailors with the necessary skills embark on an adventurous trip that will push them to their limits and show them a side of the ocean they've never experienced before.
Mark Monroe's film follows 15 ambitious youngsters as they spend six months in Hawaii preparing for the Transpacific Yacht Race, a popular, intense sailing competition between California and the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Everyone wants a spot on the 52-foot boat named "Morning Light," but only 11 of them eventually make the cut. Let the race for oceanic glory begin...
Based on an original idea and produced by Roy E. Disney, an avid sailor himself, Morning Light spends the first half of its 97-minute running time focusing on the sailing team's exhausting training before the big race. Even though the actual competition is obviously the main focus of the film, the crucial preparation is quite interesting to follow, with each of the 15 candidates going through a series of tough exercises and lessons that will come in handy in the middle of the vast ocean. Whether they have to simulate a situation involving a man over board, or spend an entire night out on the boat off the island, the tests they are faced with prove to be both exciting and suspenseful to watch.
What annoyed me a little during the first half of the film is its reality television pattern, which turns even the training process into a fierce competition. Not only do these young sailors struggle with the physical challenges, but they also know that four of them will not be boarding the shiny boat when it's time for the race to begin. Consequently, most of the interviews we get to see focus more on how much the contestants want this, what could prevent them from getting a spot on the final team, and what they are all willing to do to be part of the experience. Don't expect to learn a lot about sailing, how these boats work, and what all those technical terms really mean. Instead, we witness a dragging final selection process just like those on all these monotonous reality series.
That said, Morning Light is certainly not a boring film. As soon as the race starts, the suspense increases and the level of interest jumps up as well. Indeed, I found it quite fascinating to watch how these 11 sailors operate their boat in the open sea, a dangerous place to be all by yourself when no land is in sight for more than a week. The competition out there on the water is quite intense, and observing this solid team battle the lack of wind, dealing with their competitors or eating terrible food and trying to make the right directional decisions is in fact quite entertaining. Every now and then, the filmmakers unfortunately find ways to overdramatize things a tad too much, but this adventure at sea is intriguing to follow.
Visually, Morning Light is just fantastic. The wide air shots of the ocean and the boat look incredibly stunning, and the footage from cameras mounted on the boat helps increase the level of action and makes the whole thing seem a lot more realistic for viewers. In a nutshell, I was wowed more than once by all this fabulous footage. Considering I'm already raving about the visual aspect of the movie, let me briefly comment on the disc's high definition quality. The Blu-ray version of Morning Light boasts a fabulous 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation, complete with strong colors and sharp images. Night shots appear a little grainy, but there's not a single day shot that doesn't look splendid. As far as the audio is concerned, the DVD comes with a solid 5.1 DTS-HD transfer that brings the sounds of the powerful winds and waves right into your living room (provided you're equipped with the necessary surround sound system).
Here's what the disc's bonus material has to offer: "Morning Light: Making the Cut" is a 41-minute program that originally ran on ESPN. Essentially, this piece focuses on the selection process of the 15 candidates we get to see in the film. Originally, 30 sailors from all over the world competed for the top spots, and "Making the Cut" shows you what they had to go through and who eventually made it. Thus, it's probably more interesting to watch this program before you actually watch the feature presentation. Also included is "Stories from the Sea," a 28-minute behind-the-scenes look featuring Disney's Jason Earles (Hannah Montana) as the host. Even though this extra isn't really all that compelling, it does offer viewers a bit of additional information about what it takes to participate in such a competition, what the risks of sailing in the ocean are, and what training professional sailors usually complete throughout their careers.
Morning Light is a decent documentary in which the visuals easily beat the action. The film could've done with a little less drama, but it's quite the intriguing experience, as long as you're willing to ignore the filmmakers' attempts to turn this into a reality television program. I wouldn't put this into the category of memorable documentaries, but I wouldn't discourage you from investing in this DVD either. The footage alone is worth the trip to Hawaii, even if it's only on the small screen.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Official Site