Blue, director Karina Holden’s urgent eco-doco, casts a wide net in its efforts to catalogue the crises facing the world’s oceans. Using a number of activists and scientists as our points of ingress, the film takes in the threat of overfishing, be it from huge commercial enterprises or subsistence communities; the devastating impact of plastic pollution on the the entire oceanic ecosystem; the coral-bleaching epidemic brought about by rising water temperatures, and more. The film hits you with striking, harrowing images over and over again: drowned seals tangled in abandoned fishing nets, a hermit crab using a plastic cap as a shell, the skull of a sea turtle half-buried on a northern Australian beach, the graceless carcasses of huge sharks lined up at a South East Asian fish market. It is undeniably affecting stuff.
But it’s also quite obviously calculated to evince an emotional response, and you may find yourself in the odd position of being entirely sympatico with Blue‘s aims and themes, but at odds with the way it communicates them. For all that the film uses scientists and experts as spokespeople, it is very much a polemical, dealing in broad strokes and emotive language to drive its point home, and only lightly touching on concrete facts and figures. We get a lot of portentous long shots of doomed sea life, and just as much ponderous voice-over pontificating on the ills of the modern world. It gets tiresome.
But your mileage may vary. Blue is, at base, a rallying cry, designed to get the viewer riled up enough to actually take action; veteran oceanographer Valerie Taylor (still diving at 82, bless) adamantly states that one person can make a difference, and the film is capped with a list of resources and organisations for those willing to heed the call – good stuff. But still, one can’t shake the feeling of being talked down to. At its best, Blue is a beautifully shot and earnest look at the largely invisible apocalypse affecting the marine world – but it’s awfully condescending in the telling.