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In the Deep See [Brian D. Greene, USA/Costa Rica, 2020]

This breathtaking immersive adventure marries the awe and wonder of a National Geographic featurette, with the intimacy and personal touch of an indie flick. Viewers shouldn’t be fooled by ichthyologist/director Brian D. Greene’s admission that much of his short was made from ‘B-roll’, however. In The Deep See has the sort of serious production value that most short filmmakers can only dream of, helping Greene to spawn an otherworldly treat for the lucky viewer.

Captured from aboard the Undersea Hunter Group’s M/V Argo on location at Cocos Island, Costa Rica, Greene’s deep dive captures underwater treasures both expected and rare. Beginning with the dive prep and finishing with a skilfully captured time-lapse ascent, In The Deep See provides a VIP pass to some of the natural world’s most exclusive content.

From the opening minute, In The Deep See’s conspicuous lack of a narrator sets it apart from many of its nature documentary competitors. Unguided, we are left totally uninitiated in the processes of the environment through which the camera passes. Far beneath the ocean waves, we are kept in intellectual limbo, forever curious to learn more of the wonders we see, the information constantly withheld from us. As though as children, we are taken for a dive amongst erudite adults. Far from being a frustration, the decision to withhold a narrator is one that keeps our wonderment intact, our yearning for knowledge pricked, though never fully satisfied. This sensation is further reinforced through a playful, woodwind led score. Setting the tone, the music guides us carefully along our intellectual journey, combining well with the smoothness of the film’s early transitions, creating an experience that is deeply calming and meditative. If the end goal was to make viewers just as enraptured by the ocean’s beauty as the filmmaker is, then it is achieved with aplomb.

Despite the 'B-roll’ tag, many of the shots on display are stunning; glorious shoals of fish passing in the foreground, while the unmistakable shadow of hammerhead sharks pass in the background, providing a real highlight. Choices in the cinematography play a key role in bookmarking the various stages of the crew’s journey. In one segment, a remote camera passes over the top of the submersible, the sun’s natural light left far behind as our focus is pointed downward, confronting the ominous darkness of the unfathomably deep ocean into which Greene and his crew now descend.

The variety of captured shots and filming techniques deserves applause, with the uniqueness of filming in a submersible appropriately placed centre stage. Twice we are treated to footage of the vessel as it breaks the surface, (once on descent, once on ascent) allowing both sea and sky to simultaneously frame the picture. Such shots assist in creating a short with an impressively high production value, without ever feeling in anyway staged or glossy. Instead, the overriding sense is that we might accidentally have started watching somebody’s family holiday footage, albeit a family on one of the most extraordinary holidays imaginable.

In The Deep See is a meditative experience that further reinforces a sense of mystery in the world’s oceans. As a nature documentary, it competes in a highly competitive field, though brave and unique stylistic choices give it a good chance of standing out from crowd.


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