Deep Blue

No, not the supercomputer which beat Kasparov in decidedly dodgy circumstances, but a film from the makers of the BBC’s excellent Blue Planet series. We can all carp about the decline of quality broadcasting but one thing the BBC still does extremely well is natural history. Actually, I’d go so far as to say no other broadcaster can match them anymore. With most TV franchises these days around the world being subsumed into larger conglomerates who pump out maximum drivel for least expenditure the few quality programmes are produced by small, independent companies for sale to the bigger ones.

This leaves pretty much the BBC with it’s unique funding system as the only independent who has the resources and budget to fund multi-part documentaries like Blue Planet where it involves filming on several continents and ocean (and under those oceans – far, far under) over a period of years. Even National Geographic can’t match this. Anyone who has watched series like Blue Planet or Attenborough’s ground-breaking Life on Earth is likely I reckon to agree nto only with this view but also agree that is in our best interests that such programming continues to be made, not only to fight dire ‘reality’ TV shows and other cultural rot but also because of the beneficial effects. They are educational; they explain and show us the world around us in a way that adults and children alike can understand and present it in such a way as to make us marvel. A child who has watched these documentaries is one who will grow up to question why we allow corporations to rape and plunder the natural world and poison our own environment.

As with any such years-long endeavour there is a lot of extra footage which didn’t make the cut in the broadcast series. Deep Blue takes a lot of that footage and presents a kind of digest form of the series. Obviously a couple of hours of film can’t match a ten-part series narrated by Attenborough for information content, but that’s not really what Deep Blue is about. This is about taking some of the most spectacular footage of our marine environment and displaying it on a movie screen where the only thing you can do is marvel at it. Some of the imagery from Blue Planet was superb – some shots of whales took years to capture – but here on a big screen it is quite simply stunning.

Starting with an aerial view accompanied by narration by the excellent Michael Gambon we move through enormous, rolling breakers and into the blue ocean itself. The content is similar to the series but the makers have realised quite rightly that this film version if principally a visual feast and Gambon’s narration is minimal – the camera work and the natural world are the stars here. As cinema is above all a visual medium I have no arguments with this. And for anyone who says there should still be some sort of narrative structure to any film – newsflash, NO, there doesn’t have to be, it depends what you’re making – here we have birth, life, death and rebirth. We have gentle giants and the smallest organisms on the planet, soft-eyed seal pups and dangerous Orcas all set against the source of all life on planet Earth. Now that’s a narrative, if you know how to open your eyes and read it.

The great undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau once said the ocean is the source; the beginning of all life. I have a lot of respect for Cousteau – I adored his programmes when I was a boy and I learned much from them. Not just facts about the natural world but also respect for our environment and, equally important a sense of wonder at the amazing variety of life we have on this little globe we call home. As a boy watching Cousteau I was struck by how similar deep-sea exploration was to my other great interest, space exploration. Dark, mysterious realms both – often hostile to human life yet both important to us as a species and both places only small groups of us have had the chance to explore. As Gambon observes in the film more humans have been into space than have reached the deepest depths of the world’s oceans. A well-loved writer of SF and a fervent proponent of manned space exploration is also a keen diver and lover of our undersea world: Arthur C Clarke. Clarke, a passionate diver of many years once remarked that ultimately we all came from the ocean. We still bear that birth in our very body structure, he went on – our bodies are mostly water and our skins like a spacesuit which allows us to live out of the water.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons so many are fascinating by the deep oceans. A deep ancestral memory from untold epochs past which still whispers in our head and reminds us where we came from. And after all, we all begin our loves on this planet in a warm, liquid environment. Perhaps that’s why we feel so comfortable swimming, floating in water’ ancestral memory and personal memory of the womb combining. Add to this an incredible abundance and variety of life. Tiny plankton, bizarre, alien-looking creatures from the crushing depths, sleek sharks, playful dolphins, corals, living structure of beauty and fragility which can spread for hundreds of kilometres. Fish, squid, octopi, seabirds, reptiles and even mammals – pretty much every form of life on Earth has it’s representative in our seas. Including the Blue Whale. The largest animal in the entire five billion year history of Planet Earth. Bigger than the largest dinosaur with the greatest heartbeat of all animals; veins running from that heart are practically big enough for a human to swim down. Like us, a mammal; warm-blood flows in those veins as this creature with a huge heart and huge brain moves effortlessly through deep waters.

Deep Blue is limited release only, but I commend it to any and all of you. Just sit back and let his incredibly beautiful imagery wash over you like an ocean swell. This is something marvellous and the images from the deepest ocean floor (Blue Planet not only captured some deep-ocean creatures for the first time on film, it also found species new to science) are remarkable – you have to remind yourself that in all the thousands of years humans have sailed the seas it is only the recent coupe of generations who have seen these sights. The Marianas Trench was as mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon was until Russian probes photographed it only four decades ago. We’re the first people in history to see these marvels – deep, cold, lightless depths where no sun ever reaches. There should be nothing here, but instead there is life in abundance. Every niche in our magnificent world has been colonised by life. This was beauty. This was wonder. If you are depressed you will feel uplifted. Remind yourself just how remarkable our world truly is.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to resurrect my ocean-themed poem, Blue. I wrote this – or more accurately it wrote itself almost – in my head a couple of years ago while stressing out dealing with Xmas shoppers one December in the bookstore (a most hideous experience). I started thinking on a calm, blue ocean to keep myself sane and within a few minutes the poem just grew from a single image. My friend Sarah liked it so much she made a painting of it in the style of a cover of a children’s book (Sarah writes and draws her own) and gave it to me (I still have it on the wall – the words swirl around in the deep blue surrounding a mermaid).

B l U e


Deep blue,

Pulsing currents,

The sea moves

To a rhythm,

Like the blood,

Like the heart.

The salt water,

Ebbing, flowing,

Do the tides

In my veins

Mimic the oceans,

Or do they mimic me?

High and low tides,

Troughs and peaks,

In waves and souls,

The oceans speak.

I float serene,

Amidst the blue,

It whispers gently:

This is where

You came from.

This is where

You find peace.