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In early 2006 Roy Disney, long-time sailing master Robbie Haines and ESPN executive producer Leslie DeMeuse started the process of gathering the youngest crew to ever participate in the Trans Pacific (Transpac) boat race. Working from a list of over five hundred applications, the producers picked fifteen in a week of selection trials in Long Beach, California. The participants were then put through intensive training in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the final crew of eleven was selected. Then the race began…

Morning Light
The mark of a great documentary is one that can make an audience addictively intrigued by a subject they previously had no interest in, or even better, a negative interest in. I didn’t think I wanted to witness the self-destruction of a middle class Jewish family, but Capturing the Friedmans proved me oh so wrong. There are a trillion other examples to prove my rule. One would assume it wouldn’t take much to make a cross-ocean boat race exciting to someone with no previous interest in the subject, yet Morning Light finds a way to make it even less interesting. The film is so tied up in quick cutting, pretty photography, and overwhelming music that it forgets to find a story in the chaos. For instance, don’t just show us a thirty second glance of dolphins alongside the boat; explore them for a few minutes. Why are they compelled to chase the boats? Does this always happen? Don’t just toss us on a boat with spinning winches; find a way to explain what those winches are doing to us laymen and laywomen.

Though the doc begins with narration by vocal artist extraordinaire Patrick Warburton, the majority of the story is told through some of the most detached and monotone participant voice-overs I’ve ever heard in my life. I understand these people aren’t actors, and shouldn’t be judged by anything other than their actions, but the sheer lack of enthusiasm is almost incredible. On top of this droning tone, one gets the feeling any real drama was either deleted or never present in the situation. ‘Arguments’ consist of passive aggressive minor exchanges, and the joyful moments are overplayed to a numbing point. There simply isn’t enough plot to this situation to keep pushing ahead without exploring these blank personalities, at least not enough to fill a feature length motion picture. A thirty minute TV special maybe, but not a feature length motion picture.

Morning Light

Video


One thing high definition video will do for you is let you know how intense the sun can get in Hawaii. The sunburn lines around sunglasses are almost hypnotizing. I mean, the deep blue, unimaginably realistic ocean waves are great, but look at those sunburns. Imagine what they’ll look like as tan lines. This is one of those transfers that reveals both shortcomings in one’s television set, and in the camera itself. It’s not exactly consistent, but the inconsistencies are based on lighting issues, which are unavoidable in an action based documentary feature. When things are well lit the detail levels are so sharp they create over modulation artefacts on my set, artefacts I know aren’t the fault of the disc. On a better and bigger set I’m guessing these are positively perfect. The darker scenes are pretty grainy, and lose some minor details. The colours pop in both the difficult and bright lights, especially neons, like life jackets.

Morning Light

Audio


I have to give Morning Light’s audio designers some real big credit for one really clever bit of aural assault. Sometimes the generic adventure music becomes falsely muffled when the camera cuts to underwater, as if the music were playing on the boat at full blast. The music is uniformly obnoxious, though I’m sure kids will like its consistent upbeat tempo, and I can’t fault the aggressive presence on the track. For the most part the music is the only worthy element of the DTS-HD track, and impresses with its overall impact, bass, and echoing rear channels. The sounds of the journey are mostly centred, as is realistic considering the lack of actual 5.1 live recording equipment, but the hyper-kinetic sound engineers pick and choose a couple of choice moments to toss in a whooshing current or spinning sail into the stereo and surround channels.

Morning Light

Extras


One dull documentary followed by two featurettes on the same subject—yay. ‘Stories From the Sea’ (28:30, HD) is a made for Disney Channel behind the scenes hosted by Hannah Montana actor Jason Earles. The how-to boating stuff here really should’ve replaced some of the boring character moments that made the film. The brief runtime probably helps, but overall I found the preparation here, along with the history of the race, much more interesting than the film itself. ‘Morning Light: Making the Cut’ (41:00, HD) is another made for TV behind the scenes look, this time made for ESPN. This one covers the pre-film process in even more detail, and has a more honest tone than either the other featurette or the film.

Morning Light

Overall


Morning Light is brief enough to possible maintain the interest of some younger viewers, but I found it to be a calorie-free bit of time filler, and can’t really recommend it to anyone outside of sail racing enthusiasts. I can picture gym teachers tossing the disc in the machine on a rainy day to minor delight. The disc looks and sounds fine, but isn’t anything too special. The supplements are actually better than the film itself, so don’t let the fact that there are only two of them fool you.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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