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Deep Rising

Few threats are more pertinent to the earth's future than deep-sea mining. I can think of no documentary as ill-equipped to inform viewers of this peril than director Matthieu Rytz’s scattered and vague documentary “Deep Rising.” 

Narrated by “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa, the documentary begins with a clip of President John F. Kennedy practicing a filmed interview about the importance of the ocean. JFK stumbles a couple of times as he describes the incredible wealth at the bottom of our seas and the necessary goal of exploring these mysterious and remote areas. Kennedy’s pro-oceanography speech isn’t given further context by Rytz, and it is not returned to. It’s instead a head-scratching cold open that only sets the tone of the topic but not the topic itself. 

The best “Deep Rising” can provide is a gorgeous series of images of the unique marine life that populates our oceans. Vibrant visions of jellyfish and other translucent organisms float across the clear blue frame, enrapturing the imagination. If the documentary were as informative as beautiful, you might have something more than this soporific effort. 

Rytz globe-trots through conferences and meetings held by the International Seabed Authority. We’re a fly on the wall to esteemed figures talking about the future of deep-sea mining, but we’re given no context for the process or power structure inherent in these organizations other than top industrial world powers having their fingers on the scale. The only name we become familiar with is Gerard Barron, CEO of Deep Green. He’s for deep-sea mining, believing that rather than drilling into the earth for precious metals, we can just pick up the metals already lying exposed on the seabed. Though these materials could be used to make batteries to power electric cars, many fear removing these resources will upset the sea’s ecological balance and lead to the extinction of certain marine species and other unforeseen consequences. 

The basic pros and cons against Barron’s plan can be (barely) cobbled together. Who he is, on the other hand, cannot. How much of a market share does he have? How well-connected is he? What’s his general background? Later, we see a machine, Patania II, which will trove the seabed for precious metals. But we’re not given any idea of the tonnage this machine will pull or the frequency this machine will work with. At what rate will this machine deplete the seas? We’re never given the broader timeline or the interconnectivity of the competing interests held by nations looking to exploit another natural resource. 

Worst of all, “Deep Rising” is tonally frazzled. The score simply makes no emotional sense. At one point, footage of an Indonesian woman crying about the terrible loss of resources and harm to the environment during a protest is overlaid with twee, lyrical music. Toward the end, the score turns triumphant during a Wall Street scene that is decidedly not. The wayward score isn’t helped by Momoa’s monotone voice, which can border on disinterested. This is a shame because he, as clearly evidenced by his United Nations work, does care deeply about this topic. Pairing his star profile with the subject also makes sense, but those factors do not immediately add up to an engaging voice.

But these are the least of this film’s problems. “Deep Rising” spends far too much time repeating the same broad beats without getting into any important details. It’s always a bad sign when you learn more from the information cards during the credits than during the documentary itself. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at RogerEbert.com. Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Film Credits

Deep Rising movie poster

Deep Rising (2023)

85 minutes

Cast

Jason Momoa as Narrator (voice)

Director

Writer

Editor

Animation

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