Morning Light (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mark Monroe
Aspect Ratio: 1.851080pAVC codec
Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Review Date: June 7, 2009
A middling documentary dealing with the adventure of eleven young crewmates trying to win the Transpac sailing race, Morning Light is light in substance and dramatic intensity. The stuff for a compelling documentary is definitely here, but the writing, editing, and directing haven’t produced a gripping, memorable tale of trouble and triumph that would give audiences a reason for seeking out this story. As it stands in final form, it’s perfectly pleasant, reasonably interesting, and instantly forgettable.
Fifteen qualified candidates compete for eleven spots on the crew of the Morning Light, a fifty-two foot long sailboat entered into one of the sailing world’s premiere events, the Transpac, an open sea race from Catalina to Diamond Head, a distance of about 2,225 nautical miles. Generally, crews taking part in this race are aged thirty or older, but Roy and Leslie Disney decided to have an elimination contest for young people ages 18-23 to man the crew of their vessel. Roy Disney has won the event twice and was eager to give younger sailors a chance to test themselves on this challenging, dangerous race across the Pacific.
The film divides neatly into two halves: the first details the selection process as the fifteen finalists undergo training exercises on both land and sea to get them completely prepared for the grueling experience ahead leading to, of course, the selection of the final eleven and the elimination of four eager contestants; the second is the actual race itself with the crew battling the weather, their own inexperience in choosing a course and measuring up when the competition, especially the competition’s favorite sailboat, the Samba Pa Ti, gets to within spitting distance of their craft in the final leg of the race.
The film goes wrong in not spending enough time allowing the viewer to get to know the players much more intimately. A few leaders rise naturally to the surface: Aussie skipper Jeremy Wilmot who has the respect of everyone, the quiet but competent Kit Will, the ambitious Genny Tulloch (who almost spoils her chances by recklessly going snowboarding during a break from competition and injuring her hand). But many others pop in and out of the camera’s lens, and we recognize faces but know next to nothing about their personalities or interests, the kinds of things that make documentaries involving specific people on a specific mission endlessly fascinating. We’re left with a sea of faces, the faces of the sea, and a handful of seemingly minor problems (dying wind, inedible food, changes in strategy) as the days pass. Only when the two rival vessels come close to one another is there much tension established, and that dissipates quickly. Over the closing credits, we do get some biographical follow-up information on the personalities of the contestants who took part in this race, but by then it‘s too late. No real rooting interest was established when it was most needed.
The film is presented in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Image quality is really at the mercy of the film and digital video elements used to piece together the story, so sharpness runs the gamut from looking-through-a-window clarity to soft and indistinct mushiness. Color can be bold and flesh tones are certainly accurate much of the time, but this is not a reference quality image. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does a superlative job combining conversation and Patrick Warburton’s narration in the center channel with the music and sound effects spread through the rest of the soundfield. Bass has some real presence in this mix adding to the ambience of the nautical world we’re inhabiting.
“Stories from the Sea” finds Disney Channel star Jason Earles giving a good behind-the-scenes look at the making of this project including background on the months of training (lifesaving skills, weight training, gear repair, CPR, celestial navigation) the candidates went through before final selection, a mini-tribute to Steve Manson who impressed everyone on the shoot with his dedication and heart, and interviewing Roy and Leslie Disney about their reasons behind mounting the project. It lasts for 28 ½ minutes and is in 1080p.
“ESPN Special: Morning Light - Making the Cut” is a 42-minute ESPN special giving the real story behind the crew’s selection. It turns out there were originally 30 candidates who competed for the film’s 15 finalist positions, and this program shows exercises that helped the producers make up their minds about who would appear in the finished film. It’s in 1080p.
Morning Light is a moderately entertaining story of fifteen young people being given the chance of a lifetime to man a crew in one of the world’s great sailboat races. It’s not gripping enough or detailed enough to enter the top flight of sports documentaries, but it’s not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.