Film Review: Turtle: The Incredible Journey

This loving documentary contains absolutely gorgeous visuals, but too many instances of intrusive melodrama which impede an animal lover’s complete immersion and enjoyment.

Nick Stringer‘s Turtle: The Incredible Journey trains its lens on that most fascinating and endearing of all reptiles, particularly one hardy female soul who makes the incredible odyssey underwater across the globe from her Florida birthplace only to return decades later, to lay her eggs and begin the entire cycle all over again. We learn that, many millennia ago, the arrival of dinosaurs forced turtles to desert the land for the sea.

The film contains some of the most gorgeous imagery you’ll see this year, jaw-dropping shots that will have you wondering, “How the hell did they get that?” and also questioning if any of it was purposefully staged. At times, the very intimacy of what Stringer and his crew manage to get makes the vast Atlantic seem a mere aquarium. The myriad dangers turtles face in their lifetime, from sharks to fishermen’s hooks, are not stinted here, and when the film addresses ecological disasters like oil spills, the point is brought home when you see the tiny reptile swamped in deadly brown goo. What’s absolutely beyond doubt is the amazing resilience and fortitude of these animals, few of whom actually survive their first minutes on earth.

The tone of the movie sometimes over-amps the natural drama, especially at the beginning, when baby turtles dash to the sea as they are threatened by all manner of predators in the sky and on land, which is accompanied by thunderously over-the-top music. Seagulls and miniscule crabs suddenly become gigantically looming monsters ready to tear at the tender flesh of exposed baby turtle bellies, inevitably bringing to mind the purple prose of Mrs. Venable’s terrifyingly descriptive monologue in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer.

Stringer also over-eggs the pudding in moments like when the adult turtle has her revenge upon her childhood enemy, the crab, using its formidable beak to crush its shell and savor the sweet meat within, which is accompanied by a crunching noise one would never hear fathoms deep in the sea. That most tightly wound of actresses, Miranda Richardson, provides the narration and, bless her soul, tries to subdue her natural inclination for melodrama with omniscient, Olympian soothsayer tones. But even she succumbs at moments to Stringer’s fraught agenda, with loftily delivered pronouncements like “The land, as if jealous of the turtle’s escape, must reclaim her.”