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    Morning Light

    An ill wind blows...

    This flat, uninspired sailing documentary from the Walt Disney studios has surprisingly little to say.


    "'Light" is right.

    Written and directed by: Paul Crowder, Mark Monroe.
    Produced by: Morgan Sackett.
    Cast: Chris Branning, Graham Brant-Zawadzki, Chris Clark, Charlie Enright, Jesse Fielding, Robbie Kane, Steve Manson, Chris Schubert, Kate Theisen, Mark Towill, Genny Tulloch, Pieter van Os, Chris Welch, Kit Will, Jeremy Wilmot.
    Cinematography: Josef Nalevansky.
    Edited by: Paul Crowder, Mark Monroe.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    If the Disney competitive sailing documentary "Morning Light" strives for any kind of depth or perspective then it seriously misses the boat. A bland and generic real-life drama minus the drama, this earnest film chronicles the blood, sweat, and tears of a gangplank of 15 rookie sailors, 11 of whom are eventually chosen to compete in the grueling 10-day, 2300-mile "TransPac," an across-the-Pacific (hence the name) race from Long Beach, California to the finish line at Diamond Head, Hawaii aboard their 52-foot sloop, the Morning Light.

    Paul Crowder's and Mark Monroe's film piles on cinematic cliché upon cinematic cliché with its uninspired selection of talking heads, speeded-up footage, brisk montages, slow-mo scenes, boneheaded ballads, and everything in between. If these college kids had anything interesting or observant to say about the intense training, the selection process, or the harrowing race itself (ten days on the open sea where no rescue helicopter can reach you), the flat filmmaking might have seemed less like the sore thumb it is. But they don't. Not one of them. Instead they mostly spout the kind of inanities that would make a star athlete blush.

    Morning Light  
    That's unfortunate because the six months spent preparing for the race is no cakewalk and these young sportspersons deserve better recognition for their efforts (even if nobody bothered to coach them in the public speaking department).

    Not that there aren't any surprises in the film. 22-year-old Baltimore native Steve Manson is chosen from a pool (literally) of eager tryouts even though he struggles to swim two lengths and tread water for five minutes. Having already been selected for the crew, Genny Tulloch, also 22, breaks her arm snowboarding during some much-needed R&R yet still gets picked for the final 11. And Graham Brant-Zawadzki (22 too), already chosen for the race proper, graciously gives up his spot to a fellow crewman after skipper Jeremy Wilmot has second thoughts.

      "You really have to love the sport to get everything out of it that it has to offer."
    Admittedly there's something intrinsically captivating about the raw, unrelenting power of the ocean battering a sailboat about as a handful of hopefuls hang on for dear life even if it's delivered in a pat and perfunctory way. The grainy night footage of the crew tacking, hauling kite, and spewing overboard brings that feeling home with even greater intensity. But there's nothing here we haven't seen before, better, or more beautifully put together. The film begs to be tightened, sent back to the cutting room to exorcise superfluous scenes and commentary that adds little to the cinematic experience.

    An uninspired selection of talking heads, speeded-up footage, brisk montages, slow-mo scenes, boneheaded ballads, and everything in between make up this amateurish mish-mash of a movie.  

    But in terms of their own personal motivations, it's probably best to let the crew speak for themselves:

    Chris Clark — "You really have to love the sport to get everything out of it that it has to offer."

    Kit Will — "I had no doubt that this race would push all of us to the extreme of our abilities."

    Chris Welch — "All of my sailing experiences encouraged me to keep striving for the best opportunities."

    Graham Brant-Zawadzki — "It takes so long to get good."

    Light indeed.

    OCTOBER 19, 2008

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