Turtle: The Incredible Journey

The_Turtles_Song_03_b Before I launch into a meaningful analysis of this film, I'll disclose my biases. Why Loggerheads Have My Heart in a Firm Flippered Grasp:

In 2005, I worked for a marine lab in Sarasota Florida called Mote. It was such a magical time in my writing career, because marine life has always been a passion of mine. And Mote is really serious about protecting and studying marine life as well as sharing its wonders with people (part of the protection effort). One project had me sitting out all night with a sea turtle specialist so that we could satellite tag a loggerhead female and thereafter track her movements.

It was a rough night along the beach as a hurricane across the Gulf of Mexico sent strong waves crashing against the sands. The moon was near full, and we could see even into the deepest phases of night---watching the waves knead the glistening sand for hours became a meditation ... until they deposited a black blob along the shoreline. She was beautiful; only problem was, she had only one front flipper. We watched her come up and lay eggs. Sea turtles go into a trance when they lay eggs so they can't see you and you can get close.

It was really a transformative experience to watch her move her flippers rhythmically as she lay about 100 eggs. But as she started back toward the sea, we decided that it would be best not to put the tag on her shell; she had enough to worry about. The waves were so rough that she had a hard time getting back in the sea, though. The harsh current kept carelessly pushing her against the side of her missing flipper as we all watched helpless, with tears in our eyes. Finally, the head researcher rolled up his sleeves and grabbed either side of her meter-wide shell and attempted to direct her. She fought him like crazy, flipping her one limb repeatedly at his legs. Finally they caught a wave together and he steadied her in.

Another turtle came up soon after and we tagged her--it took placing an open-top, wooden box around her and a wet rag over her head as she snorted at us and rammed against the side of the box. Her head was huge! like 3/4 the size of ours. And her eyes were gigantic, magically-abysmal orbs staring dead ahead with determination. The tag was about a quarter pound and needed to be cemented to her shell. We scraped the barnacles off first with an epoxy knife--at approximately 30 years of age, she had accumulated quite a collection! On the patch of smooth shell we put cement and the tag and napped for an hour on the beach before waking to apply another coat. We then napped again before lifting the box and watching her pull herself back into the waves. The sun was rising and I can't explain how magical this whole thing was.

The Movie:

All of this said, turtles reach the age of at least 21 before they lay eggs. It's an amazing thing to behold what they do on land in just that brief time, but what always captured my deepest wonder was where they might go and what they might see during the rest of their lifetimes. This film showed that many other people share the same wonder to the point that they would work tirelessly on a film that portrays the life and times of a sea turtle in the way that's quite overdue and deserved.

Narrated by Miranda Richardson (who does an excellent job), this documentary features rich cinematography and powerful anecdotes that help us see what the survival of just one sea turtle entails. At times, I was stunned at how successfully they anthropomorphized the animals in this film to achieve attachment by the audience---I mean, I look at these turtles quite scientifically but was completely open to the way their feelings were portrayed in order to help people relate, no matter how contrived the sentiments were. In the end, I am a believer that animals have feelings and above all long to survive just like we do.

The subtle reminders that sea turtles outlasted the dinosaurs helped give a sense of the species' resiliency (there are seven species by the way, of which the loggerhead is merely one and possibly the least threatened one at that). Yet they are not invincible and one thing that I wish the film would have gone into was the numbers---how some places have seen drops in sea turtle populations from the tens of thousands to the hundreds. I think they wanted to keep it light and draw people into the journey that this turtle took---across the Atlantic along the Gulf Stream current.

At times, it just hits you: this animal knows where it is going from the second it's born, and that it survives is nothing less than a miracle. The script writer worked to incorporate the notion of ancestral influence (a tactful approach considering the potential backlash if the word evolution is mentioned).

Okay, minuses: I'll admit, I was a little shifty toward the end of this movie due to its pace---but for crying out loud, it's about a turtle! And honestly, they couldn't cut anything out, it was all essential. In the end, when people reflect on what they have taken away by spending the time on 'Turtle,' I think they'll be satisfied. I know I am still reflecting on this movie days later. It was a chance to watch something miraculous, beautiful, encouraging and slightly disconcerting all at once.

Strengths: script, sea footage, turtle eye close-ups

Weaknesses: ocean footage, music and narration gets repetitive, the last bit about rejoining the Gulf Stream and then going to Florida is a little confusing: a better arrow animation over the globe scenes might have helped

Save Our Seas Movie Site


Recommended Book: Sea Turtles (brilliant coffee-table book that will stun anyone who takes the time to page through it--one species, the leatherback, is 8 feet long as an adult)---it's on my coffee table, actually :)