Martin Leduc posts short reviews on maritime themed films and television. A good resource to start looking for longer format ocean media. Most of the documentaries are about seafaring and life on the oceans but, of course, are strongly imbricated with the life, resources, and politics of underwater spaces.
Playing on screens now is the trailer for Disney Oceans, to be released Earth Day 2010.
One of the interesting things about this trailer is that most of it isn’t about the ocean, it’s about the history of Disney nature filmmaking (for further references on this check out Derek Bouse’s Wildlife Films and Gregg Mitman’s Reel Nature). And moreover, they go back to Bambi, an animated fiction film, as the historical precedent of this trajectory (as the inspiration for the True Life Adventure series). While most underwater films start with the captivating underwater imagery and then move into the fascinating “narratives” of marine life, Disney works the other way around, situating Oceans as the latest in the narrative of Disney’s engagement with nature. It is this emphasis on character and story (as opposed to the scope and spectacle of Blue Planet) that distinguishes the Disney series. (Thanks to Indy Hurt for the tip on this one.)
Dolphin Mania is a film about dolphin swim tours in a small community outside Melbourne, Australia. This is one of the few places that these tours are allowed. The filmmakers interrogate the effects of the tours for both the people and the dolphins who swim with them. The film brings up questions such as: is this really eco-friendly tourism? How can these operators balance people’s desire to make contact with marine animals (and worlds) without “turning it into a theme park?” What will the model for nature tourism be in the future?
One of the most useful things about the film is, perhaps, the accompanying study guide. Co-written by director Sally Ingelton and Christina Jarvis, author of “If Descartes Swam With Dolphins : The Framing And Consumption Of Marine Animals In Contemporary Australian Tourism (2000)“, the guide lays out the issues and poses questions for use in classrooms. The film itself is less easy to get a hold of.
RealFlow is a fluid and dynamics simulation tool for 3d animation and the standard environment for animating water. Many of the case studies on the RealFlow site show samples of moving liquids (more compelling graphically) but it can also be used to simulate underwater spaces. The the program is particle based: physical properties control the particles’ behaviors and their interaction with each other, as well as extraneous impulses, forces and accelerations. It can also calculate buoyancy of objects and simulate their motion in water. It seems that the transition to particle based animation environments (versus layer based or object based) allows for new types of simulations of environmental conditions, and thus new modes of underwater mediation.
RealFlow has been used for animation in a variety of feature films, including Poseidon. In 2007, the creators of RealFlow were awarded the Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Animated film featuring the Beatles, based on their hit song “Yellow Submarine.” Also draws from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
In 1914, J.Ernest and George M. Williamson established the Submarine Film Corporation. They devised a special observation chamber called the “photosphere” that could descend up to 150 feet and had a small window for shooting.
Some of their films:
Thirty Leagues under the Sea (1914)
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
The Submarine Eye (1917)
A Deep-Sea Tragedy (1917)
Girl of the Sea (1920)
Wet Gold (1921)
Wonders of the Sea (1922) – part fiction, part autobiographical documentary
The Uninvited Guest (1924) – in Technicolor
Field Museum-Williamson Undersea Expedition to the Bahamas (1929) – brought his daughter, Sylvia in the photosphere.
With Williamson beneath the Sea (1932) – a documentary on his work, also with Sylvia
Williamson’s photosphere, and his films, helped to spur a whole underwater film genre.
More information can be found in Brian Taves’s article: “With Williamson Beneath the Sea.” Journal of Film Preservation, Volume XXV No 52 (April 1996).