turtle_the_incredible_journey_ver2_xlgIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Turtle: The Incredible Journey is available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, but it is not available through the iTunes Store or Amazon Prime.

Starring: Miranda Richardson (narrator)

Directed by: Nick Stringer

Screenplay by: Nick Stringer

***I want to first note that Turtle: The Incredible Journey was co-produced by SeaWorld Pictures, a part of SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates the SeaWorld amusement parks. SeaWorld has gained a notorious reputation for its inhumane and cruel treatment of its dolphins and killer whales. The company holds more captive killer whales than any other amusement park or zoo in the world and it employs captivity methods that literally drive its killer whales insane. The company also obtains its dolphins through what is known as “drive hunts,” which is a method of hunting dolphins by driving them together with boats and then into a bay or beach where most are slaughtered. An excellent documentary called The Cove documents this practice against dolphins (mainly practiced in Japan) and I urge you to see it.***

Turtle: The Incredible Journey strangely reminds me of a scene in the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink. In the film, the screenwriter character (played by John Turturro) is hired by the studio to write a wrestling picture, a subject which he knows absolutely nothing about and has no interest in. But because he needs a paycheck, he agrees to write it. Turtle: The Incredible Journey is sort of like that wrestling picture. I sort of imagine a studio executive calling screenwriter/director Nick Stringer into his spacious 1930’s art deco office and informing him that he will have to make a turtle picture. Stringer was probably immediately crestfallen to hear this news because he wanted to make a shark movie and nothing seemed more boring than making a film about a slow-moving turtle.

Thankfully, Turtle: The Incredible Journey is not as boring as it sounds. In fact, if one were to make a documentary about turtles, this would be the best that anyone could probably do with the subject matter. The documentary traces the life of a loggerhead sea turtle from her hatching on a Florida beach to it giving birth many years later. In between, we witness her leisurely oceanic travels through the Atlantic, Arctic, and Mediterranean Seas. It should be noted that the loggerhead sea turtle is an endangered species thanks to countries that consume turtle meat and eggs (i.e. Mexico) and especially to industrial-scale fisheries that use fishing gear such as longlines to capture fish.

Regular readers of this blog are probably aware what an ardent supporter I am of environmental and animal conservation causes. There is no such thing as too much public awareness of what a piss poor job we as a race are doing to our planet and its inhabitants. The arts should feel obligated to always raise awareness and to constantly keep these issues in the public consciousness. With this in mind and despite SeaWorld’s shady activities, I wholeheartedly support the making of this film and the filmmaker’s intent behind it. At the same time, Turtle: The Incredible Journey falls just short of becoming a very good movie. With such fantastic and recent nature documentaries like Planet Earth and Born to be Wild (where you can read my review of here: https://voiceofcinema.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/born-to-be-wild-2011-grade-a-narrated-by-morgan-freeman-and-starring-birute-mary-galdikas-daphne-sheldrick-directed-by-david-lickley/), Turtle: The Incredible Journey had its work cut out for it.

I have nothing against Miranda Richardson’s voice narration and I rather enjoyed her British governess voice. However, after you have heard the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman in March of the Penguins and Born to be Wild, it is difficult to accept any other voice actor doing a nature documentary. To give her credit, Richardson does a very good job with the narration and when the film lags visually, her voice and narration continues to hold your interest and propels the film forward.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey is hindered by its lack of drama. After all, we are talking about a turtle here. A slow, lazy turtle that does very little other than swim and who seems to face very few dangerous encounters. Other than at the beginning where the turtle hatchling races to the water to avoid the deadly crabs, the film contains very little suspense. I felt at times that the director was struggling to fill the film’s 80 minutes with material. Consequently, we are left with an excessive number of overhead shots of the ocean and the turtle swimming around in the water.

The film effectively mixes amazing location photography (the film’s DP, Rory McGuinness, won a wildlife/nature aware from the Australian Cinematographer Society) with tank “re-creations” and special effects shots. There are many gorgeous images that will have you wondering how the hell they pulled off the shot, but also question whether any of these shots were purposefully staged. An interesting issue has been raised about whether this film is truly a documentary. Turtle: The Incredible Journey utilizes a lot of computer generated special effects and other types of digital manipulation. For example, director Nick Stringer has admitted that some scenes were shot with turtles inside “a specially built marine studio.” The director has stated that 15-20% of the film was shot in the studio and the remainder of the film was filmed in the ocean. Stringer has also remarked that “the interactions between the characters were digitally enhanced with the latest in special FX and blue-screen technology.” With so much digital manipulation, can it really be said that Turtle: The Incredible Journey is a documentary? I bet anyone who watches a nature documentary is expecting to see images that are real and were actually shot in the animal’s natural environment. To manipulate the imagery and then present the film as if everything in it is real is deceptive.

Ultimately, the most important thing to take away from Turtle: The Incredible Journey is that the film raises awareness of the plight of the loggerhead sea turtle and hopefully it will inspire people to take action to prevent these creatures from becoming extinct. Regardless of why SeaWorld decided to produce this film (the reason being that it wanted to promote its new turtle exhibit), the film raises important environmental issues (a few scenes, albeit too brief, show how plastic waste in the ocean and oil spills affect sea life) and educates us on this most amazing sea creature. Although kids might get a bit bored with the movie, Turtle: The Incredible Journey is family friendly and should be watched.

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