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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD Review: Morning Light

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted June 10 2009 - 02:04 PM

Morning Light

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Year: 2009
US Rating: Rated PG - For Some Language
Film Length: 98 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, French Language Track
Subtitles: French and Spanish

US Release Date: June 16, 2009
Review Date: June 10, 2009

The Film - out of

Morning Light documents the training of 14 young sailors who hope to take part in the TransPac race – a 2300 mile, ten day sailing race across the pacific ocean, from L.A. to Hawaii. Only 11 of the 14 will ultimately be selected to participate in the race, which is almost a year out from where this documentary begins. The story follows the large cast of sailors as they learn the rugged and rough tasks associated with such a long race.

Patrick Warburton narrates the opening segment of the documentary before the voice over is replaced by audio journal entries from the sailors themselves. The young sailors, each of them around 20 years old, were selected to vie for the 11 coveted spots on the racing team and flown to Hawaii where their journey of endurance, hard-work and tests of stamina would begin.

12 young men and two young women comprise the potential crew, but what is striking about them is just how similar they seem to be through this hour and a half. This could be the result of ‘like-personalities’ drawn to such high-seas adventures or it could be the result of the director/producer/editors not delineating between the personalities enough for distinctions between them to be apparent. A shame since a documentary about how a crew comes together through vigorous training and then performs so admirably in a tough sailing race should be ripe with human drama. Instead, what we are presented with is a crew of many faces, a couple of which stand out enough to at least remember their name (the skipper for one) but not much back-story or present story to ‘feel’ their trial or triumph.

The crew as presented here just isn’t that compelling and among the fast cuts and flash style of the film, only the main trunk of a cohesive story remains intact (which is merely premise of succeeding at sea). The main fault of this documentary is looking at the subject matter from the inside only. The very best documentaries succeed in remembering, and remembering well, two things. First, a passion for the subject matter should be present throughout and, secondly, the story told should be accessible to a broader audience without dumbing it down. Here, the crew is steeped in the nautical language and the shots are pieced together in such a way that unless you already know what each crew member is up to on board you are left out in the cold (I still don’t know what everyone was doing expect the navigator and the one steering the boat).

There are times during the brisk hour and a half where the drama is engaging; where the excitement can be felt, but the moment it to compel, the film slips up; shows a situation for which we have not been suitably versed and are therefore not invested. It also feels incomplete – some of the best moments, like the moment the crew hear from their families in taped messages – we don’t get to see something for everyone. That was the last moment for us to truly get into these young sailors before they take off on their ten day journey. A missed opportunity.

None of the elegance of great documentaries is here. The whole affair is infected with an MTV-mentality, though thankfully it doesn’t stoop to that disappointing cable stations grotesque habit of exploiting the worst of young people. And the more I think of it, the idea of using each of the sailor’s voice-over of their journals as the through narration hurt the cohesion and clarity of the story. While Patrick Warburton opens the film up, not having him provide that outside voyeurs insight and input is a detractor for this effort.

The Video- out of

Shot in HD (transferred to 35MM for its theatrical release), Morning Light is presented on DVD in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions. The quality here is very good, with some vivid colors when the source itself is unobstructed by foul weather or shots through glass. The waters of the Hawaiian Islands are deep blue, the skies crisp and clear and overall, the image is free of issues. A very good looking DVD.

The Sound - out of

The most impressive moments of this Dolby Digital 5.1 come from the crashing waves against the hull of the ‘Morning Light’ boat that rock the bass. Sound in the center channel of the crews individual narration and Warburton’s voice (which I associate more closely with his easily enraged Family Guy character) is issue free. The lackluster songs used to keep up the energy sound just fine in the center channel and across the fronts as well. There is some surround activity that brings you into it also.

The Extra's - out of

Stories From the Sea with Host Jason Earles – (28:29) – Jason Earles (of Hanna Montana fame hosts a bit of a behind the scenes featurette. With interviews from team members Roy Disney, who executively produced this film, we get a better sense of the crews preparation (medical aid, mechanical training) than was presented in the film itself. Thus, this is a necessary companion pieced to the main feature to even out the narrative. Some of the information here, if included in the main feature, would have slowed it down – but it would have made it all much more meaningful.

Morning Light: Making the Cut – As Aired on ESPN – (41:54) – This is the ESPN special the presents the backstory and try outs to become a part of the ‘Morning Light’ sailing crew. Another good companion piece to the main feature.

Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-Ray is Suite – (00:00) – *NOTE – This special feature is missing from this disc.

Sneak Peaks - Trailers for Hanna Montana: The Movie, Race to Witch Mountain, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Earth, Disney Blu-Ray, Disney Movie Rewards

Final Thoughts

Morning Light comes over just a little too over-produced to allow us to get a good sense of the adventure. It is too often presented like a fictional feature; even in how the credits accompany the opening moments of the film seem more in line with fictional dramatic works than a documentary. This coupled with the poorly constructed narrative (which, admittedly, is clearer now that a whole day has passed since I watched it) and the lack of the right narrator guiding us through hurt what could have been something special.

Overall Score - out of

Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
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#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted June 11 2009 - 02:50 PM

Thanks, Neil! I've wanted to know more about this film. I had read a little about it at its theatrical release and my appetite had been whetted for more information. It sounds like an interesting idea. Too bad you feel that it misses at its main point. I'll probably be looking for a used copy down-the-road from one of my local rental shops.

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#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Jon Martin

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Posted June 12 2009 - 03:01 AM

I think it was shot in high definition video (and then transferred to 35mm for theatrical). It would have been a bit difficult to have a bunch of 35mm cameras, not to mention dealing with reloading the cameras, on a two week boat trip.

I found this interview with Roy Disney about the film where he claims it was HD.

Sailing World - Roy Disney Sounds Off About Morning Light

I watched it on Blu-Ray and the film was absolutely gorgeous.

And I agree with you about the narration. That is one of the problems I had with the film.

If you are a sailing fan, it is a must buy, especially on Blu-Ray.

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted June 12 2009 - 09:59 AM

Good catch...I was thinking about how it was shown theatrically when I wrote that and it would have been tough to pull off Posted Image I have updated.

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