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
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
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.
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.
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.
There are no special features.
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.