Morning Light
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // $39.99 // June 16, 2009
Review by John Sinnott | posted June 16, 2009
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The Movie:
The Transpac is one of the most prestigious races in competitive sailing.  Compared to the Indy 500 at the beginning of the movie, the race goes from the shores of California to a buoy off the coast of a Hawaiian island.  The ten-day race is a test of not only speed, but endurance and stamina.  Roy Disney won the race twice and held the record time for nearly a decade.  In 2007 he decided to sponsor another boat in the race.  He wouldn't be on this one however; he was going to populate it with a crew of young amateurs who had never competed in a race of this magnitude before.  The training of the crew and the race itself was recorded and the result is Morning Light, a sort of reality TV show for the big screen. 

The film starts out with a brief introduction to the race and meeting the 15 finalist who were going to train for the race.  That was the first let down.  Since they didn't want to start from zero, all of the finalist had a good amount of sailing experience which meant that they were all rich, white, college kids (going to Stanford, Harvard, Brown etc.) and predominantly male.  There were two women in the final group, and one black man who had "the least amount of experience" according to the narrator and who admitted later "I don't really grasp the concept of sailing across the ocean."  Oh yeah, and he can't swim.  The rest of the group were kind enough not to give him the nickname "token".
These fifteen were to train for six months in Hawaii at the end of which time they themselves would choose the eleven people who would crew the "Morning Light" on the race itself.  (The other four were alternates.)   The first half of the movie shows the rigorous and unprecedented training that they all went through.  Not only did they have a myriad of coaches (all past Transpac champions) working with them, but the Coast Guard even flew a helicopter out over the water so they could see what it was like to get rescued at sea.  (I guess if Disney if footing the bill, the Coast Guard will do that sort of thing.)

The second half of the movie is the race itself, a long, tiring journey that really tested the endurance of the kids.  This part was filmed by the crew themselves, and gives viewers some sort of idea what it's like to compete in such a race.
But how is it as a movie?  Not that great really.  It has the flaws of a reality show but do to the short length of the film (as compared to a year-long TV season) none of the advantages.  It was hard to get to know any of the sailors and see what their personalities were like. There just wasn't that much time.  At the end of the movie I still couldn't identify the people who sailed the ship, much less decide who I liked and didn't like.
Because of the lack of time viewers get to spend with the crew, many of their decisions don't make sense, especially when it comes to pick the 11 people who will be sailing the ship.  (Minor spoiler for the rest of this paragraph.)  One of the candidates has been seriously injured and missed weeks of training, yet inexplicably that person is chosen, still not fully healed.  Another member is one with the least experience.  Why?  Everyone goes on and on about how competent everyone is, and they decide on the least likely candidates?  If they was more time, maybe it would have made more sense.

There wasn't much of a documentary aspect to the film either.  I was expecting to learn something about sailing, but I really didn't.  Aside from a couple of terms they didn't describe what goes into professional competitive sailing.  With each team using the same computer software and following the same wind patterns, what makes one team better than another aside from the design of the boat?  I've watch the America's Cup race on ESPN (I was trapped at the time and had no choice) and the color commentators for that event explained what was going on much better than this film.
The Blu-ray Disc:        

While the disc undoubtedly reproduces the original footage well, the movie doesn't look that impressive do to the source material.  Filmed with HD cameras on the sailboat and adjoining vessels, the 1.85:1 AVC encoded image is uneven.  Night scenes are in black and white and very grainy, and the daytime shots were sometimes soft.  Water drops on the lens were common and a lot of the movie looked flat.  The colors were generally fine and the disc doesn't look bad, just not exceptional.    
The DTS-HD audio also suffered in the on-board segments, which admittedly is most of the film.  There's a lot of background noise, waves, the ship creaking, and ropes being pulled, but the dialog is never hard to understand and while it's not as crisp as I would have liked it was fine for a documentary.
There is a pair of featurettes included with this movie.  The first is Stories from the Sea, a 28-minute documentary on the race and the making of the film.  Next up is Making the Cut an ESPN special that runs about 48 minutes and looks at the how the finalists for the race were chosen.  These two were nice additions to the disc.
Final Thoughts:
While there wasn't much information to be gleaned from this movie, there still were some interesting and exciting moments.  Seeing their main rival pull up behind them in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was pretty amazing, and the energy and enthusiasm these kid's posses is infectious.  If you're interested in ocean sailboat racing, this would be a good disc to check out, but because of the films flaws, make it a rental.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

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