February 14, 2018

The Sea Around Us (1953)
Grade: 64/100

Director: Irwin Allen
Stars: Don Forbes, Theodore von Elz

What it's about. Based on a well-known nonfiction book by environmentalist Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us is a documentary about the diverse and mysterious fauna of our oceans. The nifty cinematography overcomes its sometimes portentous narration, and its apparent indifference to the impact of man on ocean life.

How others will see it. The Sea Around Us won a Best Documentary Oscar but remains in relative obscurity today. At imdb.com, it has a measly 169 user votes, and its user rating of 6.5 shows only modest appreciation of its qualities. The user reviews praise the cinematography but find the narration occasionally cheesy.

How I felt about it. Today, Rachel Carson is best known for "Silent Spring", the anti-pesticide book that caused a sensation upon its 1962 release. A marine biologist, Carson first became known to the public a decade earlier, for "The Sea Around Us", a best-seller and a National Book Award winner.

The book is likely better than its namesake documentary feature. Irwin Allen was later famous for big-budget disaster movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but for the present more humble effort, he serves as screenwriter, producer, and uncredited director.

The Sea Around Us begins with overheated narration concerning Earth's origins, but settles down into an agreable insight of deep-sea primitive life, working up from simple microscopic creatures to the giants of the oceans, whales and sharks. By this time, the feature has lost its way, and seems to be on the side of the whalers as they kill their gigantic but hapless prey.

The film ends with the observation that the polar ice caps are shrinking and the oceans are rising, threatening the coasts with massive flooding. A prescient warning from 65 years ago, not that humanity would heed it.

Although the opening and ending minutes are nothing special, the majority of the movie is interesting and informative, even if some of the ground covered is familiar. Most of us know all about baby sea turtles scurrying to the ocean pursued by hungry seagulls, but the cinematography gives us a fresh perspective on a sad tale.

Unhappily, Rachel Carson died at the age of 56 in 1964, less than two years after "Silent Spring" made her a household name. The Sea Around Us demonstrates that she had other, earlier contributions to our understanding of the environment.