A new view of the ocean

A remarkable film offers humans a glimpse of how it feels to be a fish – or a dugong.

Jules Verne led the way to the bottom of the sea in the 19th century. Jacques Cousteau followed him in the 20th century. Another French underwater visionary is about to go off the deep end and sound an alarm bell for the world's oceans in the 21st century.

Jacques Perrin, celebrated internationally for documentary movies seen "through the eyes" of insects and migratory birds, now plans to show the human race how it feels to be a dolphin or a tuna or a great white shark.

Next month, Perrin and his co-director, Jacques Cluzaud, will release the most expensive, and ambitious, underwater film of all time. The movie is called Oceans but it might have been called "40 million euros under the sea".

In 75 diving expeditions in seven years, with 18 cameras, in 50 locations, spending €40m, Perrin's team set out not just to film but to share the viewpoint and experience of 80 different marine species, from fish to sharks to whales to crabs to lizards.

"We wanted to convey the emotion of being among the people of the sea. To give the impression of being a fish among fish," Perrin said.

The movie has been previewed in Japan, Monaco, Abu Dhabi and Normandy. It will open in France in January and Britain the following month. Oceans lasts for 100 minutes but has only seven minutes of commentary, spoken by Perrin himself, mostly in on-shore conversations with a child. "The creatures tell the rest of the story for themselves," he said.

Although Perrin says that the film carries a message of "hope", the brief commentary dwells on the bleak future facing the oceans if humanity persists with industrial-scale fishing and continues to pollute the salt water covering two thirds of the globe with sewage, oil and chemicals. "We can't keep on muttering that the oceans are sick. They are practically doomed," he said. "A study published in Science magazine predicted that, at the rate we are exploiting them, almost all marine species will be extinct by 2048.

"Tuna, sardines, they are under threat, 90 per cent of sharks have gone. And yet the fishmongers' counters are as crowded as ever, not with the products of traditional fishing, but with the harvest of a systematic, industrial scouring of the seas."

As an actor, Perrin, 68, has appeared in movies as diverse as Z, Cinema Paradiso and the 2004 box-office triumph, Les Choristes, where he played the choirboy hero as a famous conductor in later life.

Perrin's production company is best known for such documentaries as Himalaya, l'enfance d'un chef (1999). In Microcosmos in 1996 and Le Peuple Migratoire (Winged Migration) in 2001, he set out to portray the world from the vantage point of insects and birds. In Le Peuple Migratoire his film-makers flew in microlights to accompany flocks of birds circling the globe.

In Oceans, Perrin and Cluzaud developed new underwater filming techniques to give audiences the impression that they are not just swimming alongside tuna or sharks but that they are part of the school.

"It is only by becoming a tuna in a shoal of tuna that you can understand what diversity means," Perrin said. "If the movie has a message, it's 'let's be part of that diversity'."

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