Review: WONDERS OF THE SEA Offers Magnificent Visuals Amid A Typical Story

Wonders of the Sea is a new nature documentary film directed by Jean-Michel Cousteau and Jean-Jacques Mantello and produced and narrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie follows Cousteau and his (adult) children as they explore the ocean with state-of-the-art technology, discovering its wonders and some of the things that threaten them.

This film plays out like an extended version of a nature documentary that you would see in a setting such as a science museum, and as such, has tremendous value as an educational tool for younger viewers. However, older viewers who already have a rudimentary understanding of aquatic ecosystems will likely find the information conveyed by the movie to be redundant of their own knowledge, and as such, will likely be unimpressed by the content of the story.

However, the film does have a very positive message which viewers of all ages could and should take to heart. The movie is all about appreciating the beauty of the natural world and the processes by which it functions. So many things that we do as an industrialized society interfere with the way the world works on its own. Although some of these things, such as fishing, are unavoidable to a certain extent, we can learn from this film and nature itself how to take those practices and make them more sustainable for the prosperity of future generations.

That said, the main draw of the movie is undeniably its beautiful and thoroughly impressive visuals. Although the film undeniably would have been even more impressive in the intended 3D big screen format, it will still leave you in awe of the massive beauty of the natural world. The most impressive sequence is one that is set at night, featuring animals that create a brilliant and beautiful light show. Other moments that stand out include ones showcasing sea anemones and octopi.

One of the more troublesome parts of the movie is its narration. Although Schwarzenegger is credited as the narrator, he only narrates part of the film, with the Cousteaus doing a majority of the heavy lifting. As a result, it seems like Schwarzenegger’s inclusion is done for little more than to have a recognizable name attached to the project. He is known to be passionate about social issues — he became Governor of California, after all — but was his narration entirely necessary? The movie likely would have worked just as well with him being nothing more than an executive producer.

In terms of pacing, the film was mostly solid, especially for a documentary. The first half, in which the documentarians are exploring coral reefs, is much more interesting and quickly paced than the second in which they are looking at aquatic ecosystems in a more general sense. The main reason why this is the case is that there seems to be more depth in the beginning than the end. Perhaps the movie would have been better off as a miniseries to give the filmmakers adequate time to go into all of their subject matter.

On a technical level, the film is definitely amazing. The camera technology used by the filmmakers is state-of-the-art, so you would expect nothing less than the best from this movie, and it delivers. Furthermore, the editing and score do a great job of taking the footage and assembling it into something more. The film does have a very old-school feel to it, but it works quite well.

Overall, Wonders of the Sea was a very well-shot and mostly interesting nature documentary. Although it isn’t anything particularly new in terms of story or message, the visuals make it worth seeing.

Wonders of the Sea hits VOD on June 4.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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