Judge Bryan Pope struggles to reconcile the terms "odyssey" and "84 minutes."
This is the closest you'll get to seeing what lies thousands of feet below the ocean's surface.
We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the depths of the sea, Ocean Odyssey informs us during its opening moments. And with that, the whizzes behind Walking with Dinosaurs are off to ooh and ahh us again with another computer-generated "documentary," this time plunging us two kilometers below the ocean's surface.
Ocean Odyssey follows the life cycle of a 45-ton bull sperm whale. During his 80 years, this giant will travel the Atlantic and Pacific oceans learning to hunt, diving to perilous depths that humans have not dared to reach. Obviously, the visuals are gorgeous. Director Dave Allen's film overflows with vast underwater canyons and mountain ranges, each landscape colored with varying shades of blue.
Ocean Odyssey is split into two parts totaling 116 minutes. The first half builds to a climactic battle between the whale and its prey, the elusive giant squid. When that moment finally does arrive, it is a vicious, violent struggle for survival between two leviathans, a struggle that doesn't create so much as a ripple on the gently rolling surface high above. It's chilling. If you have young children, be aware that this sequence is intense.
Equally nerve-wracking is a sequence in which there isn't even a sea creature in sight. Two researchers descend to unprecedented depths in a research sub, and the water pressure causes one of the windows on the vessel to crack. It's just a hairline, but the crack quadruples the suspense quotient. The moment is quick, but wound tight with suspense.
It's also artificial, like 95 percent of the program, and that can't help but dampen my enthusiasm somewhat. Many of the surface shots are genuine, but this live-action footage only accentuates the artificiality of the underwater, computer-animated sequences. An attack by a pod of killer whales is exciting, but they don't move like flesh and blood creatures, and the illusion falls just short of convincing. Blame it on too many excellent National Geographic and IMAX documentaries that have raised our expectations of what skilled underwater photographers can achieve. I don't know. Walking with Dinosaurs was also computer-animated, obviously, but I didn't stumble over it the way I did here. Perhaps it's because whales are creatures of our time, while dinosaurs have been lifted to almost mythical status.
Still, as a learning tool, Ocean Odyssey is easy to recommend. It's not just a speculative tour of the ocean floor, but a well researched program that tells a compelling story about the world's largest mammal and the sea creatures it encounters (large spiny oarfish make a memorably eerie presence). And the program is kept afloat by the narration of Bernard Hill (The Two Towers, Return of the King), sounding appropriately professorial.
Ocean Odyssey is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the computer-rendered images, in particular, look ravishing. The stereo sound is fine, but a surround treatment might have turned the program into a full-body experience. The package includes English subtitles, but no extras.
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