Movie Review - Oceans vs. The Mysterious Islands

Oceans has been reviewed in our new format and rating system.  To see the new review, click here.

Our review of The Mysterious Islands in the old format is available here.


2010 | 2009

Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud | Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin
Rated G | Not Rated

There are truths which will not be suppressed—one of them being that God’s creation is wondrous—marvelous—majestic. The truth that has been suppressed so cunningly in the one hundred and fifty years since 18591 is that the earth is a creation, and that it is God’s. There are truths which will not be suppressed; but there are also lies which will not be suppressed, either. Oceans, one of the grandest film testimonies to the majesty and the mystery of God’s craftsmanship, is a film that, it cannot be denied, went out of its way to rob God of his glory—to change the truth of God into a lie—to worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. In a case such as this, when the wonders that inspired the Psalmist to magnify the Lord are turned into idol-worship, will Christians submit to Darwinian imaginations—to discipleship through osmosis—or will there be a remnant obedient enough to the Word of God to reject this film, and to cast down those things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God? Or is that a false dilemma?

The Mysterious Islands was a film made by a group of men who had two purposes: to glorify God and to discredit Darwinism. One is a purpose we were all created for, and all equipped for. The other is a purpose that is unique to our era, and one that though required of almost as many people as the first, we are not all prepared to take on. Darwinism is a sizable enemy. However, science is a sizable ally. Scientist Dr. John Morris, father and son Doug and Joshua Phillips, and filmmaker Jon Erwin, are going to introduce us to both.

If it had not been for the evolutionism of Oceans, the film would be almost flawless within its own genre. It is perhaps less colorful than audiences might have chosen, for a documentary as long as it is, and with so little narration. The Pacific is blue; the Atlantic is gray; the Arctic is white; and at night they all become black. There is every now and then a burst of red or yellow, but taken as a whole, Oceans is a blue and gray film, whether from the oceans themselves or the creatures in them. It is not a film designed to excite, but to awe—to impress. And with footage of everything from ships crashing through the swell of the seas to the surprising majesty of a single school of fish (and with the help of a haunting music score and a soft-spoken voiceover), Oceans does just that, from beginning to end.

However, overtly Christian nature documentaries do not have to or rely solely on the historical or scientific information to hold an audience’s interest. The Mysterious Islands, in its overview of the biology, geology and history of the Galapagos Islands, presents an hour and a half rich with color, beauty, and variety. Sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, cormorants, giant tortoises—everything from schools of sharks to Darwin’s celebrated finches is captured in undaunted action, and explained with unflagging enthusiasm. But, like any good documentary, The Mysterious Islands doesn’t just capture the landscape and wildlife and state interesting facts about them; it uses those facts to support the belief system of the filmmakers.

As a good documentary, Oceans provided facts as well as engaging footage; and, as an even better documentary, it provided a surprisingly balanced picture of the environmental issues it touched on. According to Oceans, the sad thing is that turtles are caught in fishing nets, not necessarily that fish are caught in fishing nets. Images of man-made objects floating in coastal waters are brief and nonviolent. And with a lengthy section on the Arctic and Antarctic regions, the theory of global warming occupies only a few seconds, with nary a stranded polar bear, a collapsing icecap, or a diagram showing how bad off things are or will be in the future. Indeed, Oceans presents a dispassionate picture of threatened animals, and then follows by calling our attention to the fact that “never has the will to protect them been so strong” with images of divers studying the flora and fauna of the oceans. Oceans is a surprisingly reasonable film. This is a problem.

If Oceans had stopped at furthering the currently unsubstantiated theory of directional climate change, there wouldn’t have been a call to casting down imaginations, just to better science. Climate change alone does not exalt itself against the knowledge of God. Darwinism does. And Oceans did not stop with global-warming alerts. The statement, “even the tiniest of creatures may shed some new light on how our universe came to be” slipped in after the global warming section; and while we would all agree that everything in nature bears witness to the creative power of God, and thus to the origins of our universe, we would have to deny most emphatically that there is any new information to be gained as to the mode of creation.

The film stopped talking about Darwinism at that point, actually. Of course, at that point there were only a couple of minutes left in the film. Previous snatches of Darwinism went like this:

“Born of a miraculous mixture of matter and energy…” “the ocean is alive. In fact, it was already brimming with life for billions of years before ancestors of the horseshoe crab first crept up on the beach.” “For many creatures on this planet, life began in the sea. Some have returned to the sea. The dugong’s ancestors lived on land. Now he grazes in underwater pastures. And the plants and flowers and grass he eats once grew on dry land as well. The turtle, too, returned to the sea.” “Down here, it’s like Nature has given everything a try.”

There are some things we just can’t roll our eyes at and go on with the movie. Ascribing effort and intentionality—miraculous intentionality—to the abstract, impersonal force of Nature sounds idiotic, and, frankly, it is. If you want to be technical about it, though, it’s also blasphemy; as is the claim that a few million blind years of time have accomplished, unaided, the very works God Almighty has declared leave us all without the least excuse for doubting his Creatorship. You don’t just roll your eyes at blasphemy, as idiotic as it might sound. You cast it down; and with a documentary as polished as Oceans, that’s a little harder to accomplish.

You see, the problem with the film’s statement that, “If you take a step back, it’s easy to see how life itself began: in a pulse of water, in a splash of sunlight, and color. A little at a time, new forms of life came rippling and multiplying, adapting and evolving,” isn’t just the “new forms of life” part, or the word “evolving”. The problem is the cadence and beauty of the way it describes the processes of evolution. The problem is Pierce Brosnan’s suave and sophisticated confidence that the origin of life from inanimate matter is really quite easy to see. The problem with a film like Oceans is that scientific evidence is not necessary to convince someone of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Confidence is. And I suggest that it is impossible not to be influenced by the steady repetition we hear, of “Darwinism is rational”, unless we are equipped to discredit evolution not just by rolling our eyes or by merely asserting creation, but by proving it beyond a reasonable doubt to be a scientifically unsupportable theory that is at war with God.

This is where The Mysterious Islands excelled. By rejoicing in the wonders of creation it unabashedly praises Jesus Christ as the Creator. By giving undeniable historical facts and quotes about Charles Darwin, it discredits him as a respectable naturalist, as an unbiased observer, or as an innocent man. By arguing against Darwinism through indisputable probability equations, the clear evidence against the reliability of radioisotope dating methods, and multiple proofs positive of the impossibility of the evolutionist model based on internal inconsistencies, The Mysterious Islands clears the creation account in Genesis of its most fearsome libel. And by upholding the first chapters of the Bible as scientifically sound, it gives an uncompromised foundation for all the chapters that come after.

Ultimately, the message of Oceans, despite its appearance of balance and its support of a theory that cannot logically result in anything short of nihilism, is that we—all members of the human race—are god, and that in some strange way we share our deity with the ocean. These two forces are equally at one another’s mercy, and they are fiercely interdependent. Humanity, however, is the force with a conscience, with purpose, and with the greatest responsibility. They claimed that, “To really know what the ocean is, you have to see it for yourself. You have to hear it… taste it. You have to feel its power. To really know the ocean, you have to live it.” Having taken the experientialist’s dare and sailed to the bottom of the ocean with the makers of the documentary—having “lived” the ocean at least vicariously—we see the beauty and harmony of an almost untouched corner of creation; and we are told that “in the span of one lifetime, as the human race reached for the stars, it seemed like all of nature got out of whack.” We are told that “Human indifference is surely the ocean’s greatest threat.” For all the power and personification of the oceans—and though they would not admit it, for all the filmmakers’ knowledge of the sustaining power of the living God—humans are described as the pivot upon which the balance of the universe rests; and to us is ascribed the authority to choose which way it will slide. The overarching message of Oceans is nothing less than a call to worship the creature rather than the Creator.

The message of The Mysterious Islands is wonderfully holistic, and it is sound. Released on the two hundredth anniversary year of Darwin’s birth, and the two hundred and fiftieth of the publication of his infamous “On the Origins of the Species”—filmed on the very islands that gave evolution its feet—this historic film, put together by scientists and families, presents the story of Darwin’s worldview, its flaws and results. But more than that, it presents a stirring message of the joys and benefits of a reasonable faith in God’s inerrant Word. It is faithful to science, to history, and to the biblical commandments to go into all the world making disciples, to bring their own children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to remind their descendants of what God has done for them.

Even in a film such as Oceans, though, a strange and unexpected way has been provided for us to be able to see the marvels of this exquisite documentary, without compromising our obedience or the minds and hearts of the children in our families. The way was provided approximately four thousand years ago, in God’s Providence, through the judgment brought against a world that built the Tower of Babel. Few of us now can understand what is said in another language well enough to be in any danger of being influenced by it. Oceans, with its Spanish and French language options2, allows the vast majority of us to not only see the imagery, but to hear the music that accompanies it, without being subjected to the oral traditions of Darwinists.

Just because the entire one- or two-language family is able to watch Oceans without fear of audio indoctrination, however, does not mean that everyone in the family will be able to watch it without fear of any kind. Death is part of the story of the ocean, and violent death is an integral part of secular nature documentaries. The fact is that sharks and whales hunt and feed on creatures as innocent-looking as sea lions, and Oceans is going to show you how they do it. Not everybody enjoys this.

The Mysterious Islands also speaks of death, reminding us what sin has done in the world. Images of lifeless and decaying animals create an appropriate visual backdrop to evolution’s emphasis on death as the means by which the species, and the races, will be perfected. Describing the atrocities perpetrated by those who took Darwinism to its logical conclusion, the narrator speaks of the death, butchery and boiling of one set of human beings by another. Relatively mild Holocaust photos may be too much for some young children… but then, so might the salt-spitting Galapagos marine iguanas. Hemophobiacs may dislike seeing shark bait—blood—dripping from a man’s finger.

Having given my critique of Oceans, praised its manifold arts, and drawn attention to the benefits of foreign-language options, I have little left to say. Lacking a meaningful voiceover in any of the languages offered, Oceans is a slide show—a predominantly blue slide show—that has the potential to bless a Christian audience with a view of the Lord’s creation they’ve never seen before, and to inspire them to glorify him as God and be thankful. In English, or in any language that is well-understood by the audience, Oceans is Not Worth Watching. In another language, it is either Enjoyable or Recommendable… depending on the attention span of the audience.

In the case of a documentary as useful as The Mysterious Islands, there is no question as to the rating. And, after earning a Recommendable just for the apologetics information, it goes on to be one of the most engaging nature programs to be found—lacking only the occasional helicopter shot, I believe, to rival National Geographic. In serving the distinct though related Kingdom purposes of glorifying God and discrediting Darwinism within the same film, I am skeptical as to whether The Mysterious Islands has a rival at all.

My suggestion is to view The Mysterious Islands first—to gain the wildlife information that even the English version left out of Oceans, and to be exposed to some of the contagious enthusiasm about these creatures, which will make the other film more enjoyable. Watch Oceans second, in whichever language you can ignore the best, and then watch The Mysterious Islands again. They are far from being the same film, but there is enough overlap to make them excellent partners.

Note: all images in this review, except the poster for The Mysterious Islands, are from the film Oceans.
1 The year of the publication of “On the Origins of the Species”
After listening to a few minutes of each, my panel of assistants determined that the Spanish voiceover was softer and therefore less distracting.

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