You can get visual whiplash while watching Matthieu Rytz’s documentary about the geopolitical, economic, social and ecological ramifications of mining the planet’s ocean floors for metals.
One minute, you think you’re watching an IMAX documentary about gorgeous creatures of the deep, with enough amazingly translucent jellyfish on display to satisfy any stoner’s need for optical stimuli. The next minute, there’s seemingly endless footage of discussions going on in corporate boardrooms, congressional hearings, investor meetings and cocktail parties, with the faces of many participants blurred out as if they were appearing on an episode of Cops.
The Bottom Line
Visually stunning but narratively shaky.
Unfortunately, there’s more of the latter footage than the former, with the result that Deep Risingreceiving its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, can be a frustratingly (and ironically, considering the subject matter) dry experience.
Jason Momoa, who also executive produced, serves as the film’s narrator, an appropriate choice not only because of his environmental activism work, but also because, if you’re going to make a documentary about plumbing the oceans’ depths, who better than Aquaman himself?
There’s no doubt that the film traffics in important issues, as the world continues to develop a rapacious need for the minerals required to produce cellphone and electric car batteries, among many other things. And the debate over the need to explore the ocean depths has been going on for a long time, as demonstrated by an opening clip of JFK attempting to deliver a televised address on the matter, amusingly flubbing his lines and requiring several takes.
The filmmaker — whose previous effort, 2018’s Anote’s Ark, dealt with the devastating effects of climate change on the island country of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean — is a visual anthropologist with a clear affinity for his subject matter. The documentary largely concentrates on the company DeepGreen Metals, later The Metals Company, whose charismatic CEO Gerard Barron (he looks like a slightly weathered Patrick Dempsey) is repeatedly shown making impassioned pitches for the economic and ecological importance of the mining of mineral-rich nodules. located at the bottom of the ocean.
It requires intense concentration to follow the twists and turns of the narrative, if you can call it that, as the procession of talking heads delivering jargon-heavy information soon becomes numbing. At one point we’re treated to a powerpoint-style lecture on the intricacies of oceanic mining by a scientist drawing on paper on the hood of a car in the desert. It’s an interestingly low-tech approach to explaining pretty high-tech issues. Another lengthy segment concerns many debates in the United Nations over which countries have the right to mine the world’s oceans. Naturally, the United States thinks it does.
The International Seabed Authority, located in Kingston, Jamaica, was formed in 1994 to regulate deep-seabed mining, protect the marine environment and settle jurisdictional disputes. Seems the perfect solution, except that, as the film persuasively argues, the organization has been the subject of numerous controversies over, among other things, a lack of transparency and conflicts of interests.
None of this deters The Metals Company, whose motto promises us that “The Future is Metallic.” But as Momoa repeatedly informs us in his narration (delivered in a suitably solemn tone for the subject matter, but coming close to sounding sedated), there are many questions remaining about the ecological dangers of such mining activities. As much as one wants to engage with these serious issues while watching the film, it’s hard to avoid wishing that the heads would stop talking and the pretty fish would come back.
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