Among the many wonders of the new documentary “Oceans,” my favorite is that it’s not computer generated.
Oh, sure, there’s amazing camera technology involved. Scene after scene raises the same question: How did they shoot that?
The scenes remind you of countless animated film fantasies you’ve shared over the decades. But rather than celebrating the imagination this time, “Oceans” turns the equation around, using movie magic to show things as they actually are.
Being human animals, we are inclined to perceive everything as a reflection of ourselves. This new project from “Winged Migration” filmmakers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud is full of such images: A seal with the face of a lovable pet dog. Thousands of crabs scuttling across the ocean floor like gladiators in battle. A sensual octopus transformed into a brightly colored undulating scarf under the sea.
But these aren’t cartoons or special effects. They’re not people in cute animal suits, here to entertain us. They exist as they are, in their own right, fellow passengers on planet earth.
With Pierce Brosnan delivering the lyrical narration, we encounter an amazing variety of undersea life. Each of these creatures — from the majestic to the revolting to the fascinating — is an advocate for our responsibilities on the planet we share with them.
Waves full of dolphins. Skies crowded with gulls. Schools of sardines like undersea cyclones. Intimate moments between mother whales and their offspring.
The project was years in the making, spanning the globe with its locations. And its brilliant cinematography erases another leftover fallacy of the era when Walt Disney himself walked the earth.
In Walt’s day, his groundbreaking nature documentaries never illustrated the survival of the fittest. The camera pulled away or the editors cut away at the crucial moment. There were no kill shots, not even any blood. They never showed the inherent conflict, the universal truth, as Brosnan aptly observes: Big fish eat little fish.
“Oceans” begins with an epic symphony of ecology, in which whales, dolphins, sharks and seabirds feast on schools of sardines, if not on each other.
“It’s a fish fight,” I overheard one very young viewer say to another, watching a giant shrimp and crab fight to the death. In another scene, unbelievably cute sea turtles hatch in the sand and begin their march to the sea, only to be swooped down upon by circling seabirds.
“Bambi,” this isn’t. Life, this is.
“Oceans” pushes our perceptions in other new directions as well. Watching scenes of birds gracefully swimming underwater among their prey, distinctions and definitions blur.
Birds fly, fish swim — right? Well, not exclusively. Human perceptions reveal the world to us, but also limit what we see by the labels and definitions we impose. We see what we think we’re seeing.
The most ancient ancestors of whales and dolphins were dog-like land creatures. Human life — unless you’re the sort of human who denies evolution — had its origins in the sea. Life is energy, always in motion, always in change. It’s something to be grateful for — not something to be mastered.
“Oceans’ ” message about the interconnectedness of it all lingered in my mind as I drove to Hana last Saturday. It was my annual pilgrimage to the East Maui Taro Festival — the unique marriage of agriculture and just plain culture that could happen nowhere else on the planet except Hana.
As I drove I thought about Carl Lindquist, who first showed me the way to Hana when my family arrived on Maui almost 20 years ago.
One year Carl told us to be at the majestic Pi‘ilanihale Heiau before sunrise. His instructions necessitated driving the famous road in an inky night under a full moon. When we arrived, just as the sun was beginning to rise, we saw scores of Hawaiians in traditional garb, chanting to one another. It was an unforgettable vision, a moment unstuck in time that could have been happening 1,000 years earlier.
Over the decades, Carl — a sort of unofficial ambassador to all things Hana — taught me other equally valuable lessons. Last November, he and his wife, Rae, were killed after their vehicle was caught in a flash flood as they drove home from Thanksgiving dinner at the Hotel Hana Maui.
Circulated among the ag displays at the festival, I was reminded that Hawaiians have their own version of the circle of life. It’s taro, a vegetable, but according to mythology, it’s also the first ancestor of the Hawaiian people.
Blending into the happy swirl of people, like a school of fish filling the festival tents and ballpark, I kept thinking I caught glimpses of Carl in the crowd.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.