Morning Light (2008)

Who knew Disney made sports documentaries? Turns out they do. Or, at least, they made this one which, unfortunately, has a really fascinating story to tell but tells it in a sloppy, half-assed kind of way.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Documentary, Sport

Director: Mark Monroe

Actors: Chris Branning, Kate Theisen, Chris Schubert

Year: 2008

MPAA Rating: PG

Country: USA

Spear-headed by Roy Disney, the film centers on 15 twentysomethings, who are recruited to train for an elite, 2500-mile open-ocean sailing race (California to Hawaii) called the TransPac. With six months to master their sport, get themselves in shape (mentally and physically) and, eventually, whittle their official racing team down to only eleven members, the recruits move into a swanky Hawaii house to get to work.

But, while there’s a wealth of promise for a film like this, the resulting documentary feels an awful lot like an extended episode of The Real World: Sailing Wars than, you know, an actual documentary. In fact, the entire project would have worked so much better as a multi-part TV reality series, where it would have had time to introduce each of the participants and truly document the trials, tribulations, hardships, joys and challenges of their training. Nevermind the race itself. It’s a story that practically demands that sort of format.

Instead, the filmmakers clearly try to appeal to a younger demographic (i.e., the MTV generation) by racing (pun intended) through the entire process with an overbearing and often distracting soundtrack thumping through just about every moment. The “training” segments are brief, disjointed and not terribly clear in terms of explaining what the team is doing; the in-house antics/squabbles/romances/homesickness/whatnot are practically non-existent, with only a couple of random sequences of team members off the boat at all; and good luck trying to distinguish one recruit from another – very little time is actually spent getting to know each of the 15 participants,. Adding to the confusion? Initially, they are often in group shots when they’re identified onscreen, so it’s hard to pinpoint who’s who… save for Jeremy (the only Australian), Genny (the only girl) and Steve (the only minority). As a result, it’s tough for a viewer to become invested in anyone’s story.

While there is some decent footage of the crew at sea, there wasn’t anything exceptional in the coverage. Conflict among, and challenges for, the recruits never seem particularly serious (surprising, given the demands of the race) and there are a couple of shots that actually look like they might have been digitally manipulated (e.g., the boat cruising under a strangely lit, star-filled sky as a perfectly timed meteor or shooting star flies past). There are also snippets of narration, courtesy of the recruits’ personal diaries, that seem out of place and needless… not to mention sounding scripted.

I dunno. given the subject matter and the potential for some jaw-droppingly awesome stuff, I was looking forward to this film, but left feeling like it really needed to be bigger and a lot better.


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