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Experience a riveting and inspiring true-life adventure aboard the high-tech sloop MORNING LIGHT. Fifteen rookie sailors have one goal in mind -- to be part of her crew, racing in the most revered sailing competition on Earth, the Transpac Yacht Race. From start to finish, it's a rollercoaster ride of emotions and physical challenges, beginning with six months of intense training. Only eleven will survive to race in the grueling 2,225-mile Transpac. Matching wits and skills against experienced pros and the unforgiving, unpredictable Pacific Ocean, these young men and women develop a powerful bond and prove how dedication, teamwork and an unyielding spirit can overcome the greatest of odds.
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For the first time, we get a glimpse into the fascinating world of long-distance sailboat racing by giving us the opportunity to get familiar with the characters, the boat (aptly named "Morning Light" - which at the end of the movie provides a bit of Disney magic!) and intense preparation required to compete in one of the premier yacht races. In short, I was blown away. By the way, the photography is utterly amazing - the best we've ever seen in a sailing film.
If you've never been on a sailboat before you'll finally get to see why so many of us find it intoxicating. The boats in the film are the Ferrari's and Lamborghini's of the sea - they're always being fussed over to gain that extra knot or two, in any kind of weather and at any hour. And we get to see that in shot after shot. One great scene shows the boat hitting 27 knots, which sent chills up my spine. For a monohull sailboat, that's just sick!
But the real star of the film is the crew, which, as you've already read, features fifteen rookie sailors that are given the chance to prove themselves against some of the world's best sailors. Their stories are what brings Morning Light her character and heartbeat.
Roy Disney, who was the driving force behind the film, said, "I would like this film to appeal to people who have never been sailing and have always wondered what it's like out there... I'd like for people to understand that it's a very demanding and athletic sport." Roy, you've done a terrific job.
Since 1906, boaters from all corners of the globe have gathered to compete in the Transpacific Yacht Race, a two-week-long sailing competition that extends across more than 2,000 miles of open ocean, starting in Los Angeles and ending in Honolulu. In 2007, Roy Disney and a team of expert trainers sponsored a hand-picked crew of young sailors - ages 18 to 23 - to compete in the event (indeed, it was the youngest team in the history of the race). Named after the 52-foot boat on which they sailed, "Morning Light" is a documentary account of both the preparation for that race and the race itself.
The movie spends much of the first half focusing on the grueling training the youngsters underwent as part of the process of whittling down the group of 15 hopefuls to a final crew of just 11.
Directed by Mark Monroe, "Morning Light" is a wholesome, upbeat, fast-paced documentary with razor-sharp editing (by Monroe and Paul Crowder) that really gets the adrenaline pumping, and cinematography (by Josef Nalevansky) that truly makes you feel like you're a part of the action. Through interviews, we get to know a little about the youngsters themselves, what motivates them, what excites them about sailing, and what it means to them personally to make - and, indeed in some cases, to not make - the final cut.
With its inspirational, shoot-for-the-stars pop-rock soundtrack, MTV-style editing techniques and "Real World" communal setup (albeit a squeaky-clean one), the movie is clearly aimed at a younger audience. And there are times when the movie does feel a little too "Disneyfied" for its own good (did none of these young adults ever once swear?). But folks of any age will be able to thrill to this film, provided they have a spirit of adventure - armchair variety or not.
I would never, ever, have known of Morning Light if I had not been the only other person in an advanced meterology class in Seattle under master weatherman Lee Chesneau. The skipper Jeremy, the navigator Piet, and the back-up navigator Chris, and I, spent a full week together. I ended up feeding them and the instructor a lot of sushi.
These three were a cut above the norm, but one of the things I learned from being with them was just how normal the crew was, and the fact that they were giving up a working position in order to carry a camaraman--in other words, they came in second to a world-class professional crew even though handicapped by one cargo camaraman. I was surprised not to see this mentioned in the film.
As for the film, it had me on the edge of my seat and as mundane as some may find aspects of the film--not exactly a James Bond movie, and certainly not a drama with hotties such as Wind--for anyone who loves sailing, this is absolutely a great film to view alone or as an excuse for a gathering of like-minded folk.
My biggest disappointment in the film is the lack of detail on training--absent my comment and my direct experience, no one would know they got advanced meterology training, or that their initial southern pick went against everything they were taught (the wind rotates counter-clockwise). Nor did I learn anything of other training.
From talking to them I learned far more about the training and the details of equipping the boat, e.g. they were each allowed one small sack of personal items, and as the boat was put together there were furious arguments about the exact weight of the navigation light at the top of the mast, and the weight of the wire from the light to the power source. That is the kind of stuff I was hoping would be in this film.
So a bit disappointing, but a superb contribution and one that I would recommend as a gift to any aspiring sailor from high school onwards.
Other DVDs in my sailing library (see my Amazon List):
Volvo Round the World Race: The SEB Stopover Reports.
Racing To Win with Gary Jobson
Of course, the fact that this is a Disney movie waters down the expectations of "documentary" elements, and, true to Disney's reputation, the worst you will see (or much rather: hear) is somebody getting seasick off camera. No cursing, no fights, no frustration, no egos competing. Just a bunch of happy twens in a friendly competition. To distract from the voids of this obviously edited-out content, Disney uses high-def cameras and high-tech editing to create those "stunning visuals" that everybody appears to seek in a sailing movie. However, Disney pushed too hard for my taste - more often than not the result looks overedited at best and some scenes look outright cheap. The pinnacle of fake-ness are the night sailing scenes "under the stars", that, of course, include the mandatory shooting star across the sky. If I want to see "canned atmosphere" like that I watch a cartoon - there at least I don't have to wonder about the degree of "reality" in all the other scenes.
For some reason, Disney also decided to take out pretty much everything that would have made this kind of venture interesting for me: The crew selection process is depicted like a happy pool party. The training process appears to be a couple of days of jolly sailing with some of the world's best sailors, but we don't hear anything about the instructions they give. The skills needed to compete in the TransPac are not mentioned anywhere. Different crew members are caled "highly talented sailors" all the time, but we don't get to find out what actually makes a good sailor other than winching a sheet, looking at a screen with weather and maps and turning the boat's wheel.
Long distance races are won and lost by the tactical decisions made in the process and this race is no exception. The crew for some odd reason decided to go north instead of south around a high pressure area. Unfortunately, we hear nothing baout why they made this, or any, tactical decision. LAter during the race, an almost identical boat was able to overtake them. What was the mistake they made? What did they learn from that? All these questions go unanswered as well as the question of how the crew reflected on the race afterwards other than in empty buzzwords. There would obviously have been a lot to explore here, especially since from the beginning there were more kids on board than were finally selected to crew and the skipper was only "elected" at the end of the training period. All of these elements are so heavily glossed over, though, that it led me to regret having spent the time watching it.
On another note: the soundtrack is just ridiculous. Disney apparently thought it highly original to underlay a softened pop-rock that sounds like a leftover from the early nineties being recycled, and, as subtle as a tank, to modulate the beat with the wind or boat speed. This might have been cutting edge twenty years ago, but these days it just adds to the feeling of cheapness in this movie.
In the end you will have seen some highly polished visuals of high tech sailboats in fair weather conditions, you will have seen someone winching a sheet about a hundred times, which apparently metaphorizes "sailing" for Disney, and you will be sick of hearing some of the more spoiled crew members about having to spend ten days without gourmet food, video games, and movies, instead of realizing and taking advantage of the fantastic opportunity and privilege they have been given. You will also have heard Walt Disney tell you a felt 2000 times about how this race changed his life, but you will be left to wonder about the "how" and "in which way". To me this movie was a great disappointment: what could have been a great documentary about a fantastic sailing experience ended up being an empty shell, the vaccum of which the images and the soundtrack were not able to fill.
If you're looking for more "reality" in a documentary about long-distance sail racing, maybe something like "Deep Water" might be the better choice. If you're looking for a very "light" movie, where everything is "fairy-tale harmonious" and sailing is "fun", where you can leave for 30 minutes or turn off the volume without missing anything, then you might enjoy this one.
If you hunger for a little more depth, laszlo pal's "Sailing The World Alone" documentary is pretty good.