Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turtle: An Incredible Transatlantic Crossing

Loggerhead turtles, especially the young, are actually kind of cute, in a Charlie Brown sort of way. Unfortunately, their first moments are rather trying. If they can make it to the ocean, instinct takes over, carrying them across the Atlantic and back as they grow and harden. It is an epic process captured in Nick Stringer’s Turtle: the Incredible Journey, a new nature documentary carrying the Seaworld imprimatur, which opens this Friday in New York.

Loggerhead turtles are born buried on sandy beaches, where the females will eventually return to lay their eggs. Just digging their way to the surface is a labor for the newly hatched turtles. Once above ground, they must contend with predatory birds and crabs as they scramble towards the sea. This will probably be the most challenging scene for young viewers. Even adults might find themselves hoping Stringer’s crew will intervene on the loggerheads’ behalf. Of course, this would be a major violation of the Starfleet Prime Directive. As it happens, older loggerheads will in turn feed on similar crabs, as the circle of life comes around.

Turtles have no gills, yet they still live most of their lives in and under the water. Hardwired with considerable instinctive sense, the young turtle hitches a ride on the Gulf Stream, riding a patch of seaweed across the Atlantic. While an eddy sends her on a long detour in the notoriously still Sargasso Sea, her journey’s hiatus allows the turtle time to mature. In due course, she makes her way to the North Atlantic, across to the shore of Nova Scotia, down to the Caribbean and finally back to the Florida beaches of her birth. There are plenty of dangers along the way (yes, including humankind), but mature loggerheads are made of sturdy stuff.

The vivid clarity of Rory McGuiness’ mostly underwater photography is quite stunning. Using a variety of cameras, Stringer brings viewers up close and personal with the loggerheads and their fellow denizens of the deep (Discovery Channel fans should note, there are also quite a few sharks swimming through Incredible). Evidently, some VFX enhancements were sparingly added in post, which might sound like a bit of a cheat, but it serves the film’s intimate focus on the POV loggerhead as she mingles with the diverse and forbidding ocean community.

Miranda Richardson’s narration should be clear and soothing for young audiences. While maybe not the most expressive of creatures, the loggerhead is surprisingly photogenic, at least as filmed by Stringer and McGuiness. Although their numbers had dipped, the film informs us the loggerhead population is on the rebound—happy news, indeed. Of course, they still close with a soft pitch for the Save Our Seas conservation effort, which is fair enough. Admirably well crafted and surprisingly engaging, Incredible is one of the better representatives of the recent wave of nature films to making their way to theaters. It screens in 3-D at select locations, but good old fashioned 2-D is perfectly sufficient. Recommended for families and nature lovers (even the more casual types), the safely G-rated Incredible opens this Friday (6/24) in New York at the Regal Union Square.