A dazzling but somewhat self-contradictory mixture of cutting-edge technology and cozily old-fashioned documentary filmmaking, ocean exploration doc “Wonders of the Sea 3D” is breathtakingly beautiful and unimpeachably well-intentioned. Its vibrant, thrillingly crisp 3D visuals alone give the armchair oceanographer all the excuse needed to dive right in, no snorkel needed. But unlike the Pacific Monarch, the hummingly modern white vessel on which co-director Jean-Michel Cousteau, his son Fabien, daughter Céline and intrepid director of photography Gavin McKinney will slice through azure waters from Fiji to California to The Bahamas, outside the imagery, the storytelling creaks.
Narrated by producer Arnold Schwarzenegger, in concert with Cousteau père and occasionally fils and fille, the voiceover script, with its unashamedly message-based PSA-style agenda, might be more suited to a hi-tech schoolroom outfitted with 3D projection facilities (presumably such innovations are not far off) than the multiplex. But even then, beyond its value as a series of mind-expanding quasi-optical illusions — as apparently dull surfaces explode into puffs of color, and impossible-looking creatures thread in and out through softly spiny reefs — it relies a little too heavily on the assembled kids being impressed by a Schwarzenegger who is, one brief prologue and one clumsy “Terminator” reference aside, on curiously anonymous form. The Cousteau family name, moreover, will probably mean a lot less to them than to their parents.
Still, the loveliness of the footage, especially the macro work that brings the tiniest animal to such vivid life you can anthropomorphize the expressions on their faces, cannot be denied. There’s a particularly impressive sequence shot during a night dive which does for the lower reaches of the nocturnal ocean what “Gravity” did for space, as filmy luminescent creatures put on neon laser light shows in the inky blackness of the deep sea. The voiceover compares these twinkling displays to constellations and nebulae, and even sees in a drifting jellyfish a satellite tumbling through water like Sputnik though low-earth space.
Elsewhere, anemones blossom, stick-like crabs scuttle, wise-looking turtles swim sagaciously by and giant, century-old clams expel clouds of sand into the crystal clear waters, accented by the symphonically majestic score from Christophe Jaquelin. Symbiotically co-dependent species help each…