This monumental documentary by Jacques Perrin (Microcosmos, Winged Migration) gets intimate enough to hear a crab sneeze. It opens with an aerial shot of thundering waves, closes with a zoom-out through storm clouds and in between dives into deep the wet, wild and wondrous. Like last year’s Earth, it showcases the best globe-trotting nature cinematography—I dare anyone to improve on it—but smartly strips the saccharine mommy-and-daddy narration for a take on nature that’s both fascinated and detached. It doesn’t take sides, say, when a Mantis Shrimp tears off a crab’s arm and then delivers a punishing coup de grace Ah-nold would approve. That’s nature and Perrin doesn’t sugar coat it (though he pointedly avoids blood). But at its kid-heavy matinee premiere, I didn’t hear a single tyke wail when a cute seal got snarfed by a shark. They—and everyone else—were awestruck by the scope and scale and splendor of Perrin’s four-year, $100 million coup. He spent a third of Avatar’s dollars capturing Earth’s alien sights, and his footage is more impressive for being real. Even James Cameron couldn’t dream up a five-way fracas between a sardine school and the dolphins, birds, sharks and whale set on eating them. There are eels and octopi that look like they swum out of a flapper’s closet, a tender walrus and son swim and a Great Wall of crabs that seems to stretch from here to China. The visuals rule, but the sound may be the best of the year—we can hear the footstep of a lobster. Every 20 minutes, Pierce Brosnan’s crisp narration takes a two-sentence stab at pollution, global warming and overfishing, but just as quickly, the film reminds us that while humans play god with the planet, the planet knows who’s boss. A scene where Mediterranean tuna fishermen scoop up aquatic bystanders cuts to a fishermen’s boat getting tossed on the waves like a crowd surfer; our fear for their lives tempers our glares. That’s craft, and this must-see wonder is swimming in it.

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