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Case Number 12819

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Deep Water

Genius Products // 2007 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // January 25th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Franck Tabouring wishes he were a sailor. This film made him want to conquer the oceans.

Editor's Note

Our review of Deep Water, published December 21st, 2001, is also available.

The Charge

A thrilling new experience from the producer of Touching the Void.

Opening Statement

Deep Water is undoubtedly the most fascinating documentary in years. It's the true story of an emotional and often nerve-racking experience that kept a whole nation spellbound for months. It's the powerful story of nine ambitious thrill-seekers willing to risk their lives and give up everything in pursuit of the ultimate adventure. But it's also the tragic story of abandoned families sitting at home waiting for their heroes to return…

Facts of the Case

Shortly after Francis Chichester returned to England in 1967 after sailing around the world with only one stop, The Sunday Times took the competition to the next level and announced the first solo, nonstop, around-the-world boat race. The first man to successfully complete the race would be awarded the Golden Globe, and the one with the fastest boat would receive a cash prize of £5,000.

In 1968, nine courageous sailors left the coast of England to face their greatest challenge and conquer the world's most dangerous oceans. One of them was Donald Crowhurst, a determined engineer and amateur sailor who risked everything he had to participate in the competition. He was the only one to build his boat from scratch, but he was also the very last one to set sail.

A month later, as Crowhurst slowly approached the threatening southern ocean, his journey around the world almost came to a dramatic close. As it turned out, his boat was not stable enough to beat the powerful waves, and if he continued to head south, he would sink. In what would become his toughest decision yet, Crowhurst had to choose between risking his life or abandoning the race, all while his wife and children were sitting at home, eagerly awaiting his return…

The Evidence

Directed by Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell, Deep Water is one of those rare documentaries that leaves a strong mark on its viewers. Superbly structured and edited with passion, the film chronologically covers the race from the departure to the return of the first sailors. The first 20 minutes offer extensive information about the days leading up to Crowhurst's turbulent departure, and feature stunning footage recorded by the BBC and interviews with journalists, who were assigned to cover the race and report on the contestants. Crowhurst encountered the most challenges prior to his departure. His boat was not ready and the deadline to set sail was just days away, and as reporters Ted Hynds and Donald Kerr accurately describe, the chaos was too big to deny. But the stakes were too high, and Crowhurst left anyway.

Deep Water also includes brief historical background information on some of the contestants, and offers a short but elaborate insight into their intricate minds. Expert psychiatrists predicted that participating in a race of this magnitude would drive the sailors insane, so it's particularly interesting for the audience to discover what drove these men to embark on this perilous adventure. The highlight of the film is the compelling selection of recent interviews with family members, sailors, and members of the press, who agreed to share their feelings about the race and the decision of their loved ones to leave them behind for ten nail-biting months. The wives of sailors Moitessier and Crowhurst are the most intriguing to listen to. Especially Clare Crowhurst offers the most emotional accounts, discussing the intensity of her fears while sitting at home waiting for a phone call about her husband's progress. You can still hear the pain and sorrow in her voice. Remarkable also is the testimony of Ron Winspear, who was Crowhurst's closest friend and is also the main narrator in the film.

Besides the interviews, Deep Water also features a horde of extracts from original recordings and footage the sailors took on their journey. One thing the film beautifully explores is Crowhurst's big dilemma. Lacking the financial resources to build his boat, he signed a contract with a businessman named Stanley Best, who would then provide the necessary funds. The only condition was that Crowhurst would not drop out of the race too early. But when he later realized that penetrating the southern ocean would be too dangerous, he had to make a crucial decision. If he went on with the race, he would most likely die, and if he abandoned the competition and returned home, he would lose his house and be ruined. Most of this captivating information springs from his logs and recordings, which were found in his abandoned boat days after the race was officially ended.

On a similar note, the film also explores what impact solitude had on the sailors. Those who did not drop out early were gone for nearly ten months, without any sophisticated means of communication. Striking footage from the race shows how they lived and spent their time. Each one was given a camera and a tape recorder to document their journey, and let me tell you, watching and listening to their experiences and thoughts is a unique experience. Other details about the race itself come from recent interviews with Robin Knox-Johnston, who was the first sailor to return home after completing the original route.

Besides some gorgeous shots of the ocean, and the many interviews, most of the film's footage was filmed with 16-mm cameras. The quality of the image, however, is top-notch all throughout. The same applies to the audio transfer, which is clear and crisp. I don't know if they re-mastered the original recordings or cleaned up the footage, but from a technical point of view, the DVD scores quite high.

The special features section on the disc is particularly interesting for those seeking more information about Crowhurst and his competitors. "The Sailor's Story" is a wonderful collection of five short films that briefly document the adventures of other sailors who attempted to sail around the world. "The Journalist's Story" is a highly interesting 11-minute featurette that includes interviews with journalists who discuss the importance of such a competition during the 1960s and how The Sunday Times came up with the original idea for the race. They truthfully explain that their work was about "inventing a story, not just reporting the story."

The bonus material also comprises "The Family's Boat," a six-minute interview session with members of the Crowhurst family. Although they briefly talk about Donald's ambitions and his determination to finish the race, they also explain how hard it is to accept his tragic death. "The Abandoned Boat" is an interactive featurette that gives the viewers access to Crowhurst's boat via a collection of photographs, tape recordings, and extracts from his poignant logs and diary. Make sure to check this out, because it offers more material you could ever wish for. That about wraps it up for a fantastic special features section. If the documentary ends up captivating your interest and attention, the DVD version of Deep Water is an absolute must-have.

Closing Statement

Deep Water is an extraordinary journey about self-discovery and the importance to keep dreaming. It's a truly moving film, with great editing, passionate direction, and sincere interviews. It's also a film you will never forget, and one of only a few documentaries you will want to watch over and over again. Set sail, and dive deep!

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 94
Audio: 95
Extras: 90
Acting: 98
Story: 98
Judgment: 98

Perp Profile

Studio: Genius Products
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Interviews with The Sailors Involved In the Race
• Interviews with The Crowhurst Family
• Interviews with The Journalists Who Reported On The Race
• An Interactive Guide to Crowhurst's Boat
• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb
• Official Site

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