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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ocean Odyssey
Ocean Odyssey
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // December 12, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted December 21, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The movie

The oceans are a fascinating subject, but they're also very challenging places to do research or to film documentaries in. Fortunately, in recent years we've been treated to several excellent documentaries, most notably Blue Planet. But while most ocean nature documentaries only look at the sunlit surfaces of the ocean, Ocean Odyssey takes viewers far below the surface into the incredible depths of the ocean. The film follows the life of one sperm whale over its 80-year lifespan, from calfhood to old age.

Ocean Odyssey is made by the makers of the Walking With... series, and the approach is similar. Instead of illustrating the hidden depths of the past, Ocean Odyssey shows us the secrets of the depths of the abyss: the deep ocean. Because we can't actually see what life is like at the crushing depths of two kilometers below the ocean's surface, Ocean Odyssey uses CGI to recreate for our eyes something of what it might be like, if we could see with sonar the way the sperm whales do. It's very effectively done: we get a sense of the mystery and majesty of the deep-sea world while always remembering that we are "seeing" imaginatively through the whales' eyes.

The program does a very nice job of interweaving information about the ocean and sea life into a continuing narrative. One of the strengths of Ocean Odyssey is its recreation of the deep-sea landscape: the cliffs and valleys, the desert of the abyssal plain, the underwater mountain chain of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. We also get a sense of the ecological web of the depths, with the sperm whales at the apex of the pyramid. We learn about the different biological and geological aspects of the deep along the way, as we follow the whales on their lifelong journey. Since Ocean Odyssey does focus on the whales, we learn the most about them: their biology, their behavior, their social behavior.

I found the structure of Ocean Odyssey to be quite effective; by following a single whale, the program has a tight focus that makes the overall program engaging. There's no over-sentimentalizing of the sperm whale's story (wisely, the "protagonist" is not given a name) but there is a nice recognition of the individuality of the whale and the richness of his life in the deep - after all, one of the things we learn in Ocean Odyssey is that sperm whales are highly intelligent, social, and long-lived. The only quibble that I have is with the two-episode structure; I think the program would have been better with some editing of the "next time..." segment at the end of the first episode and trimming of the introductory material at the start of the episodes. That's a minor issue, though; Ocean Odyssey makes good use of its 116 minutes of total running time, with good pacing overall.

The program ties into historical events, starting with the laying of transatlantic telegraph cables, and continuing with references to the ongoing process by which humans have learned about the deep ocean. We see how deep-sea events like underwater earthquakes can have effects on land, and how whaling affected whales. While many documentaries seem to ignore the human relationship to the subject (at least until the last five minutes of the episode), Ocean Odyssey shows throughout the program the way that human life and deep-sea life are connected to and influence each other. For instance, after watching this program, viewers will understand how much of a deadly effect ships and the use of sonar can have on the life of whales and other marine life.

Visually, Ocean Odyssey is very well done, with excellent use of CGI to create the deep-ocean worlds for us. It's done in a very believable manner, and we get a strong sense of what it might be like to live deep below the ocean's surface. Other visuals are used effectively as well, such as when we're shown underwater geography or weather systems forming.

Ocean Odyssey does an excellent job of conveying solid information about the deep oceans, the life in them, and our human relationship to them. At the same time, the program also captures the sense of majesty, drama, and power of life on and in the ocean. It's not easy to balance these two elements, but Ocean Odyssey does so very well, making it both engaging and worthwhile to watch.

The DVD

Video

Ocean Odyssey is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. The image is clean and attractive, with natural and pleasing colors and an overall good level of crisp detail.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack handles the demands of the program well. The voiceover narration is crisp and clear, and the music is balanced well with the rest of the track. Sound effects are an important part of Ocean Odyssey, and they're handled well here. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also provided as an option.

Extras

There are no special features.

Final thoughts

If you've enjoyed Blue Planet or the Walking With... series, Ocean Odyssey is a no-brainer of a DVD purchase. The material is very interesting, and the presentation is handled well, making for an engaging and definitely worthwhile documentary. Highly recommended.

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