Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Directed By: Mark Monroe
Running Time: 98 minutes
Ratings: Canada – PG, USA – PG, UK – N/A
Now more breathtaking than ever on Blu-ray — experience a riveting and inspiring true-life adventure aboard the high-tech sloop Morning Light. Fifteen rookie sailors have one goal in mind — to be part of her crew, racing in the most revered sailing competition on Earth, the Transpac Yacht Race. From start to finish, it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions and physical challenges, beginning with six months of intense training. Only eleven will survive to race in the gruelling 2,225-mile Transpac. Matching wits and skills against experienced pros and the unforgiving, unpredictable Pacific Ocean, these young men and women develop a powerful bond and prove how dedication, teamwork and an unyielding spirit can overcome the greatest of odds. It’s an awe-inspiring film made absolutely stunning in Blu-ray High Definition.
Upon first seeing trailers for this project in theatres, I shook my head in disgust as it proposed that a sudden potential shift would bring the likes of reality TV to the big screen presentation format. It was something that I was not looking forward to as most reality TV is fed by the masses eagerly anticipating the enjoyment of watching human beings suffer. However, Morning Light definitely escapes those preconceived notions that I had for it. And, in doing so, puts it in a very strange place with regards to the level of entertainment which one can acquire from it.
Being a project based off of a documentary style, Morning Light escapes the nuances of everything that is bad about reality television while simultaneously providing very little conflict upon which to establish a real sense of dramatic development. Sure, it is enjoyable enough. But, is there enough packed into that 98 minutes to make it the inspirational piece of filmmaking that is touted all over the retail case? Hardly. With a crew consisting of such young ambition and a very drastic male/female ratio, every viewer is left keenly anticipating some serious gender oriented “clash of the titans” moments which never come to fruition. For the most part, the entirety of the crews journey seems to be a little too perfect.
However, the other side of this coin is the fact that perhaps that was the goal of the project designers in the first place? After all, with the serious and potential lethal nature of the race at the heart of the film, there shouldn’t be any potential for serious drama. This would prove to offer an opportunity to applaud the project coordinators. They are probably the first and only reality entertainment project to make their selections based on everything except the potential psychological collisions that could occur amongst participants. Decisions made out of sincerity for the experience and not the ratings or box office. And, for me, this is what truly makes this a great production. In my opinion, it is everything that reality TV should be!
As for the content and presentation themselves? The filming of the experience is rather exciting all on its own. Camera man Rick Deppe did a phenomenal job as the sole videographer during the voyage. Not to mention the fact that he remained completely invisible to the various stationary lenses during peak moments on the journey when he knew the footage from certain cameras would be perfect. His frames are always captivating and energized while, on occasion, they leave the viewer saying, “How the hell did they get THAT shot?” Aside from the visual beauty and dynamics of his work, the content itself is mostly always educational in some respect. When you do see the crew in action or speaking, the scene lends itself strongly to being able to learn something about sailing.
What I could have done without? The soundtrack could have used a bit more attention. The feel of the tracks used left me cringing slightly as it always leaned heavily towards creating a “lets hook the teenagers with a boy band lineup” type of atmosphere. It felt as though the music was trying a little too hard to keep the presentation focused at a specific group of viewers instead of reaching out to all demographics interested in the sport/hobby of sailing.
Altogether not as exciting as one might hope for, Morning Light still offers one of the more uniquely satisfying reality based entertainment experiences I’ve had to date. It provides everything you want from the visuals of how unique an experience it is to participate in a race of this nature without any of the petty human stupidity associated with most reality programming. I have a feeling that this is the exact reason for which it became a film presentation instead of a television series. Networks probably saw no market for it as it lacked the personality conflicts that make most other reality programming “invigorating.”
Crave Factor – 8
Stories From The Sea With Host Jason Earles (28:32) – This documentary about the documentary is actually pretty good. Aside from the slightly annoying youth host (his delivery was of the typical “slightly over the top” young Disney voice), you get to learn a lot about the boat crew, the process, and the production team involved with this project… including the 12th “invisible” crew member on Morning Light. The camera man Rick Deppe is shown doing what he does best.
ESPN Special, Morning Light: Making The Cut (41:56) – If this project was to be a Reality TV series, this would have been the footage shown during the first two episodes. The content revolves all around how the top 30 contenders for crew member status were widdled down to 15 through the challenges and tests of the judging committee. This feature was almost as fascinating to watch as the final film production itself. This is especially true since you get to find out exactly why those chosen were able to “make the cut.”
Crave Factor – 9
1.85:1 Widescreen / AVC
With a project of this nature it would be easy to penalize the video presentation unjustly. Plenty of footage appears blurred and out of focus. However, in all of those instances it is fair to assume that it is not the transfer itself since the cameras are amidst an unpredictable environment where water and wind are the two most prominent atmospheric conditions. And when the two start working together, there isn’t a single lens that is safe from exposure. So, there are plenty of imperfect visuals, but they are unavoidable circumstances of the filming process.
When the sun is shining, the wind and rain are getting along, and the lenses are clean there is no denying the quality of the video on this Blu-ray. Colours are both vibrant and detail yielding. The blues of the sky/ocean, the oranges/reds of the sunsets, and the whites of the sails/clouds are simply astounding. The only time that blacks are really visible during the presentation is at night and the night vision cameras don’t do those any justice whatsoever. The presence of grain and extraneous noise during those scenes are both prevalent. But, Hollywood productions still have to light their night scenes in order to acquire the detail which we’ve come to expect. So, again, this isn’t something to penalize the transfer for since lighting the boat properly at night would have required far too much additional cargo and man power. Therefore, the transfer can only truly be judged on the daytime footage, which is gorgeous when not affected by wayward droplets.
Crave Factor – 8
5.1 DTS HD-MA
The most impressive factor in this audio presentation is the veritable lack of wind interference over the microphones. Certainly, it is present throughout the presentation. But, it mystifies me that they were able to capture so much natural audio elements of the surroundings while travelling at speeds upwards of 30 knots (55 km/h, 34 mph). Travelling at half that speed on my bicycle with a toque covering my ears produces enough wind that I can barely hear my headphones! With microphones at open sea, and travelling at that speed, the audio should be deafening with wind interference. But, almost every word, ship creak, sail flap, and ocean splash is distinguishably audible. It’s certainly not the best I’ve ever heard by any means. However, given the conditions in which they were recorded, I am thoroughly impressed!
Crave Factor – 8
The disc menu begins with an introduction that consists of a full screen montage of images fading in and out of one other relating to both the nautical experience and the film itself. Once completed, the full screen image minimizes itself and relocates to the upper right hand corner of the screen. Menu options appear along the left side of the screen layered upon one another from top to bottom. Sub-menus appear in the middle of the screen.
Crave Factor – 6
A genuine surprise and treat, Morning Light is anything but what one would expect of a reality based entertainment project and the Blu-ray offers the best way in which to be surprised of it. It may have shortcomings in its presentation, but those will mostly fall into the categories of what the general public has come to expect from the garbage on television these days. The video and audio encodes on this release are substandard by comparative measures; however, they shine by perspective measures. The quality that comes out of a film project of this nature is quite astounding considering all of the elements that could so easily ruin every frame and every moment of audio recording. And lastly, the supplemental content included may not be vast in quantity, but it offers plenty of expansive information upon which to further enjoy the film and the process by which it came to be. Morning Light definitely deserves a chance to set sail upon the vast oceans of home viewers entertainment centres. The only question is whether it will dock itself in your entertainment harbour or whether it will just be chartered by you for a few days.